Are Cell Phones Risky For Kids?

British Group Urges Caution Until More Health Studies Are Done

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 11, 2005 -- Until more is known about the potential risks of cell phone use a British research group says people should exercise caution in using the devices or giving them to young children.

A new report from the British National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) concludes that there's no hard evidence that the health of the public is being harmed by cell phone use.

However, they say uncertainties remain regarding the risks associated with long-term mobile phone use and advocate a "precautionary approach" until more is known about these potential risks.

"The fact is that the widespread use of mobile phones is a relatively recent phenomenon and it is possible that adverse health effects could emerge after years of prolonged use," says researcher Sir William Stewart, chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), which compiled the report, in a news release. "The evidence base necessary to allow us to make firm judgments has not yet been accumulated."

"What we can say is that there is as yet no hard evidence of adverse health effects on the general public, but because of the current uncertainties we recommend a continued precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technologies," says Stewart. "This approach should be adopted by all involved in this area -- including government, the mobile phone industry, and all who choose to purchase a mobile phone for themselves, or their family, or their children."

Caution Urged in Cell Phone Use

The British report, which was released today in London, is based on a review of the studies to date on cell phone safety and updates a previous report that was published in 2000 by the U.K. Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones and Health. That group was also chaired by Stewart.

In addition to urging caution with cell phone use, the authors of the report place a priority on gathering more information about radiation exposure levels associated with cell phone use and their possible health effects.

The group says particular attention should be given to learning how to minimize exposure of potentially vulnerable groups, such as children, and to investigate whether other groups may also be particularly sensitive to the effects of cell phone use.

Until those studies are complete, Stewart says children should use cell phones as little as possible. He recommends that children use text messaging instead because it reduces radiation exposure to the head.

The group also recommends that people and children use mobile phones with the lowest Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which measures the rate of energy absorption in body tissue. Cell phone users can find out this information from the manufacturer.

Cell Phones and Health Risks

Philip E. Steig, MD, chief neurosurgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, says this report should not cause alarm.

"The data that they're referring to shows that there is no evidence that cell phone usage increases the incidence of brain tumors in adults," Steig tells WebMD.

The group's findings are also in line with the most recent report on cell phone safety from the FDA, which found that there was no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or other hazardous health effects.

But Steig says studies on cell phone-related health risks simply haven't been done yet in children, so there's no evidence to support or contradict claims of any potential risk.

"One has to use common sense here," says Steig. "Cell phones have been in use for more than 20 years now, and the CDC has not noticed an increased incidence of cancers in children as a result and no correlation has been found with the use of cell phones."

"Reasonable use of cell phones for brief conversation and for scheduling of events for children is going to be safe," says Steig.

But aside from any potential, and yet unproven health risk, Steig says there are plenty of other reasons why children should limit their cell phone use.

"They should be exercising, doing their homework, and other constructive activities," says Steig.

Show Sources

SOURCES: News release, National Radiological Protection Board. FDA. Federal Communications Commission. Philip E. Steig, MD, neurosurgeon-in-chief, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City. Wire reports.
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