It can be a great relief for parents to know their child is accessible via a cell phone when the child is away from home. But scientists who’ve studied the effects of cell phone radiation on children recommend that they use a cell phone only for emergencies.
This is because children are more vulnerable to cell phone radiation, which penetrates a child’s skull more easily, a particular problem when their brains are still growing and developing.
In 1996, Om Gandhi, MD, at the University of Utah, conducted a landmark study which found that the same amount of cell phone radiation that produces 72 milliwatts (mW) per kilogram (kg) of brain tissue in an adult will zap a 10-year-old’s brain with160 mW/kg, and a 5-year-old with240 mW/kg. As Gandhi explained to Microwave News, children have thinner skulls and smaller ears than adults, so the radiation has a shorter distance to travel from phone to brain, and every millimeter of separation makes a big difference.
Since then, research groups in Brazil, France, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland have all published papers supporting Gandhi’s conclusions, and a study published in 2010 found that children absorb ten times more cell phone radiation into their bone marrow than adults.
When cell phones were introduced, scientists wouldn’t have considered this a big problem as they thought the kind of radio frequency radiation emitted by cell phones was safe as long as it didn’t cause too much heat. However, newer research has shown this isn’t so. Radio frequency radiation can, for example, alter DNA and weaken cell membranes, including the “blood-brain barrier” that prevents detrimental substances from entering the brain from the bloodstream. A 2007 Israeli study found that mobile phones can trigger changes in the brain within 15 minutes of use that interfere with the way brain cells divide and encourage the growth of brain tumors.
Meanwhile, Ronald B. Heberman, MD, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, has pointed out that it takes decades for the brain to become insulated with protective myelin. In this sense, the brain hasn’t fully developed until well into our twenties and remains more vulnerable to damage by radio frequency radiation.
Although more studies need to be done specifically on children, cell phones, and cancer, in 2009, Dr. Lennart Hardell in Sweden found teenagers with heavy cell phone use had five times more brain cancers as young adults. (Cordless phones were almost as bad, with four times more brain cancers.) Is it a coincidence that brain cancer is now the number one cancer killer in children?
In May 2011, the prestigious Council of Europe, an advisory organization of 47 member countries, recommended banning cell phones and Wifi networks in schools and starting a public service information campaign on the dangers cell phone radiation posed to children.
The danger is real, and children’s vulnerability is real too. Children can be allowed to have a cell phone, but only when they are mature enough to use it responsibly. In our next posting, we will talk about responsible cell phone use for both adults and children.
- Gandhi OP. Electromagnetic absorption in the human head and neck for mobile telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz. IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques. October 1996;44(10):1884-1897.
- Microwave News. Children and cell phones: Time to start talking sense. May 3, 2010. Updated July 10, 2015. Accessed May 1, 2017.
- Christ A. Age-dependent tissue-specific exposure of cell phone users. Physics in Medicine and Biology. March 2010;55(7):1767-1783.
- Friedman J. Mechanism of short-term ERK activation by electromagnetic fields at mobile phone frequencies. Biochemical Journal. July 2007, 405(3):559-568.
- Scott P. Is your life on the line? men’shealth.com, April 10, 2010.
- Hardell L. and Carlberg M. Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk of brain tumors. International Journal of Oncology. July 2009;35(1):5-17.
- Gray R. Ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools say, European leaders. The Telegraph. May 14, 2011.