Cellular Phones Linked to Behavioral Problems in Children

Summary
The effect of cellular phone use on the well-being of children has not been sufficiently examined. In this study, children who were exposed to cellular phones, both before birth while in their mother’s wombs and in their early childhood, were found to be at a higher risk of behavioral problems.  The authors of this study concluded that, “cell phone use was associated with behavioral problems at age 7 years in children, and this association was not limited to early users of the technology.”

Introduction
Cellular phones are a known source of radio frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF). A 2009 study, done by the International Telecommunication Union, reported that the world over subscription to cellular phones had increased from 5 percent approximately 15 years ago to well over 70 percent by 2009. Exposure to cellular phones is increasing among children at younger ages. With such wide use, concern regarding the health effects of EMFs is mounting; the use of cell phones by pregnant women is especially worrying. An earlier study from the same researchers demonstrated increased behavioral problems in children exposed to cellular phones before and after birth.  Their earlier study included nearly 13,000 Danish children, born between 1997 and 1999 from the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC). This 2010 study was conducted to see if a group of about 28,745 children from the DNBC would present comparable results after considering other factors that could lead to behavioral problems.

Methodology

  • This study recruited 100,000 pregnant women from March 1996 to November 2002.
  • The women were interviewed by telephone during pregnancy and after childbirth, about their lifestyle, diet and other environmental factors affecting them.
  • When the children were seven years old, the same women answered a questionnaire related to cellular phone use, such as use of hands-free sets, usual location of the cellular phone when not being used, and their current use of cellular phones. The questionnaire included a set of 25 questions that asked about social conditions, family lifestyle and diseases in childhood, especially behavioral problems.
  • Based on the answers, the child’s behavior was scored, and the cellular phone use along with the scores was correlated to assess the risk of behavioral problems with cellular phone use.

Results

  • The odds of children exposed to cellular phones before and after birth suffering from behavioral problems at the age of 7 years were the highest when compared to children who had no such exposure.
  • Children with before and after birth exposures to cellular phones tended to have lower social occupational status.
  • Children with such pre- and postnatal exposure to the cellular phone were largely those whose mothers smoked when they were pregnant, were young mothers and were mothers with higher levels of stress during pregnancy.

Shortcomings
Some researchers, including the authors of this study, agree that behavioral problems in the children studied could be due to additional factors like maternal age, education, socioeconomic status, as well as maternal neglect. Questionnaire-based assessments of behavioral problems in a child could be dubious.  Noting cellular phone use based on the mother’s memory could also be erroneous.  Researchers propose to compare exposed children with those unexposed, to ascertain the exact risk, but there are too few children who are unexposed to cellular phones to substantiate such a study today.

Conclusion
This study demonstrates a link between behavioral problems in 7-year-old children and the use of the cellular phone, before and after birth, among a general population of mothers who are cellular phone users. The results substantiate those of an earlier, similar study, after taking into account various social and maternal factors. Although the results are fairly clear, the link of cell phone use should not be assumed to be the cause of behavioral problems in children.  However, if the link is real, considering the nearly universal use of cellular phones, the impact on public health could be of great concern.

For More Information:
Cell Phone Use and Behavioral Problems in Young Children
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, December 2010
By Hozefa A Divan, Leeka Kheifets; University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

Tags from the story
,