Children And Mobile Phone Use: Is There A Health Risk?
By: Don Maisch
September 23, 2002
The paper "Mobile Phone Use: its time to take precautions", published in the
April 2001 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College of Nutritional &
Environmental Medicine by this author, examined what was known about the
possible hazards of mobile phone use up to that date. (1) At first, this
subject may not seem relevant to children's lives until it is realised that
today the fastest growing group of mobile phone users are children and young
people. This growth is actively encouraged by professional advertising
campaigns from the mobile phone industry, extolling how indispensable the
phones are to their life styles.
Case History: Walt Disney Co.
An unfortunate example of how youth are deliberately being targeted was
investigated by the New York based technical newsletter Microwave News. In
the May/June 2002 issue it was reported that in November 2000, just as ABC
News was about to air a TV program expressing concern over the use of cell
phones by children, the Walt Disney Co. announced that it would no longer
allow its cartoon characters to be used to market mobile phones. ABC is a
subsidiary of Disney. A Disney spokesperson said at the time that the new
policy would remain in effect "until there is reliable evidence establishing
the absence of any [health] risks," and that "The well-being of our
customers is our first priority." (2)
At first this seems like a responsible position by Disney but it was exposed
as a sham in the July/August issue of Microwave News:
"Disney and Motorola are teaming up to tap the 6 -to- 12 year-old customer
electronics market. They will roll out the first products -- a two-way radio
and a 2.45 GHz cordless phone -- in the fall, with others to follow next
year. Motorola states that the walkie-talkies will have a range of up to two
miles. And in late July, Disney announced that it is launching a service
which will allow customers in Taiwan to download images of Mickey, Donald
and Goofy onto their phone screens. In 2000,
Disney pledged not to licence its characters for use on cell phones "until
there is reliable evidence establishing the absence of any [health] risks."
Disney recently reaffirmed this commitment to Microwave News.”(3)
The only conclusion one can make here is that somehow, while all the
scientists doing research on mobile phone health effects cannot yet come up
with the goods on health risks, Disney has found "reliable evidence
establishing the absence of any [health] risks". Fortunate news for Disney
for now they can proceed with their new telecommunications venture, in
partnership with the paragon of truly independent research, MOTOROLA.
This constitutes a serious conflict of interest if Motorola is providing
‘evidence of safety’ while at the same entering into a major capital venture
To be fair to Disney, their executives would have only been provided with
the opinions of Motorola about the safety of children using mobile phones
and may be blissfully unaware that the science is not as black and white as
they have been led to believe. Considering that Disney has a significant
influence on many millions of children, the possibility of harm being
inflicted on these children by their wireless products must be given serious
With the continuing worldwide mobile phone advertising blitz, produced by
the same transnational public relations corporations that previously gave us
such delightful cartoon characters as "Joe Camel" for the tobacco industry,
no words of warning are heard. However, within the scientific community,
there is a growing chorus of expert voices that are urging caution because
if there are adverse health effects from mobile phone use, it will be the
children who will be in the front line, and who may pay the highest price.
For the sake of the future of our children's health we need to seriously
heed these voices and limit children's unnecessary use of mobile phones.
Statements of concern from the scientific community:
1) In 1999, as a result of public concerns about possible health hazards
from mobile phone technology, the UK Government formed the Independent
Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) to examine possible effects of mobile
phones and transmitter base stations. This group was headed by Sir William
Stewart, the famous British biochemist and president of the British
Association for the Advancement of Science. What made the Stewart Inquiry
unique, was that it was made up almost entirely of biomedical specialists --
and so were able to focus many man-years of acquired specialist knowledge on
Their report, Mobile Phones and Health, was released in April 2000. In
regards to the use of mobile phones by children the IEGMP stated:
"If there are currently unrecognized adverse health effects from the use of
mobile phones, children may be more vulnerable because of their developing
nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head
and a longer lifetime of exposure. In line with our precautionary approach,
we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for
non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend that the mobile
phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by
Sir William said at a science conference at Glasgow University in September
2001 that mobile phone makers often presented their products in adverts as
essential "back to school" items for children. Such adverts were
irresponsible, said Sir William. He added: "They are irresponsible because
children's skulls are not fully developed. They will be using mobile phones
for longer, and their effects won't be known for some time to come. Mobile
phone technology has been led by the physical sciences. My own view is we
ought to be doing more work on the potential biological effects." (5)
2) On December 8th 2000, the German Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement
advising parents to restrict their children's use of mobile phones. They
advised that all mobile phone users should keep conversations as brief as
possible but that additional precautions are appropriate for children in
view of "special health risks" associated with their growing bodies. (6)
3) On July 31, 2001, Wolfram Koenig, the new head of the "Bundesamt fur
Strahlenschutz, which is the federal authority for radiation protection in
Germany, stated in an interview in the "Berliner Morgenpost" that "Parents
should take their children away from that technology [mobile phones]". Mr
Koenig, also a member of Germany's Greens party, said that "Some people are
very sensitive to radiation." and urged companies not to target children in
their advertising campaigns. (7)
4) Statement delivered at an Australian Senate Inquiry meeting in 2000:
CSIRO Telecommunications and Industrial Physics chief, Gerry Haddad warned
that the new telecommunications exposure standards being drafted neglected
to take a high enough level of protection, particularly in relation to
children. Mr. Haddad said, "Restrict use of mobile phones to children for
essential purposes . . A precautionary principle would seem to be a good
idea:". Dr. Haddad complained that the CSIRO’s view had been rejected in the
formulation of new emission standards that stopped short of advising that
children be restricted in their mobile phone use.(8)
5) A day after the release of a Danish mobile phone study titled “Cellular
Telephones and Cancer – a Nationwide Cohort Study in Denmark, a panel of
scientists in Denmark debated the findings and questioned the validity of
the study conclusions. Panel chairman Professor Albert Gjedde, a brain
specialist also expressed concern that children could be more vulnerable,
because their brain cells are still growing, and therefore EMF had the
potential to,lead to more serious brain damage than in adults. He advised
extreme caution in accepting assurances of safety, and suggested Denmark
should reduce children’s exposure to mobile phone emissions to a minimum.
6) Statement from Olle Johansson, Assoc. Professor, The Experimental
Dermatology Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.
(September , 2001).
"...Already in 1996, I started to warn in public of the effects on microwave
irradiation on children through their use of mobile telephones. The debate
has also very much focussed on the responsibility regarding ads and products
directly aimed for children, and here in Sweden great alarm has been raised
around the propositions to even develop and sell cellphones for the ages up
to 5 years."(10)
7) Statement from Sianette Kwee, Professor, Department of Medical
Biochemistry, University of Aarhus, Denmark. (Member of the Editorial Board
of Bioelectrochemistry. Danish expert representative in the European Union’s
COST 281 project "Potential health effects from Emerging Wireless
Communication systems", Basic Research group.)
Fields of research: Bioelectrochemistry : electroporation - electrochemistry
of biological systems, Bioelectromagnetics: biological effects of
environmental electromagnetic fields (extremely low frequency /ELF and
microwave /MW), on cell growth in human amnion cells.
"Our studies showed that there was a significant change in cell growth in
these cells after being exposed to EMF fields from both power lines (ELF)
and from mobile phones (MW). These biological effects were greatest in young
and vigorously growing cells, but much less in old cells. These results tell
us, that e.g. microwave fields from mobile phones can be expected to affect
children to a much higher degree than adults." (11)
8) Statement from Dr. Gerard Hyland of the University of Warwick, Coventry,
England, and the International Institute of Biophysics, Neuss-Holzheim,
Germany. Excerpt (dealing specifically with children and mobile phone use)
from his Report for the STOA Committee of the EU.
“The Increased Vulnerability of Pre-adolescent Children:
Pre-adolescent children can be expected to be (potentially) more at risk
than are adults - as recognised in the Report of the UK Independent Expert
Group on Mobile Phones (the Stewart Report) - for the following reasons:
*Absorption of microwaves of the frequency used in mobile telephony is
greater (particularly at 900MHz) in an object about the size of a child's
head - the so-called head resonance – than in an adult’s, whilst, in
consequence of the thinner skull of a child, the penetration of the
radiation into the brain is greater than in an adult.
*The still developing nervous system and associated brain-wave activity in a
child (and particularly one that is epileptic) are more vulnerable to
aggression by the pulses of microwaves used in GSM than is the case with a
mature adult. This is because the multi-frame repetition frequency of 8.34Hz
and the 2Hz pulsing that characterises the signal from a phone equipped with
the energy-saving discontinuous transmission (DTX) mode lie in the range of
the alpha and delta brain wave activities, respectively. The fact that these
two particular electrical activities are constantly changing in a child
until the age of about 12 years, when the delta-waves disappear and the
alpha rhythm is finally stabilised, means that a child’s brain must be
anticipated to be doubly vulnerable to interference from the GSM pulsing.
*The increased mitotic activity in the cells of developing children makes
them more susceptible to genetic damage.
*A child's immune system, whose efficiency is, in any case, degraded by
radiation of the kind used in mobile telephony, is generally less robust
than is that of an adult, so that the child less able to cope with any
adverse health effect provoked by (chronic) exposure to such radiation.”
9) WHO Director General on children & mobile phone use: (Microwave News,
“Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director general of the World Health
Organisation (WHO), favors a precautionary approach to the use of mobile
phones, according to press reports from Scandinavia.
In an interview with "Dagbladet Norge" (March 9, 2002), a major Norwegian
newspaper , Brundtland discouraged children from using mobile phones. A
physician with a degree in public health, Brundtland was a former prime
minister of Norway.
Jon Liden, a communications advisor in Brundtland's office in Geneva,
confirmed the accuracy of the Norwegian article to Microwave news.
Brundtland's outlook appears to put her at odds with the WHO International
EMF Project. "Precautionary policies should not be applied to EMFs," Dr.
Michael Repacholi, who oversees the project, stated recently (see MWN, S/O
01). He could not be reached for comment.
Brundtland advises everyone to limit the amount of time on the phone, but
she does not think there is enough scientific evidence to issue a formal
warning. For herself, Brundtland says that she gets a headache whenever she
uses a mobile phone. "In the beginning I felt warmth around my ear. But the
discomfort got worse and turned into a headache every time I used a mobile
phone," Brundtland said in the interview. Making shorter calls does not
help, she added. The interview was featured on the front page of "Dagbladet
Norge" and was later picked up by the Swedish Press. (13)
10) Professor Michael Kundi, from the Institute of Environmental Health,
University of Vienna, Austria, writing in the July/August 2002 issue of
I read with great interest your report on the Rome meeting on the possible
risks of mobile phones to children (MWN, M/J02). My institution at the
University of Vienna and Physicians for a Healthy Environment (a
non-government organisation) have produced an information booklet on Mobile
Phones and Children, sponsored by the Austrian Greens Party. It discourages
the use of mobiles by children.
The arguments are similar to those that have been put forward by others. In
addition, however, it relies on a fact that has not been previously stressed
and, to my surprise, appears not to have been discussed in Rome. A child’s
skull is not only thinner and surely has different dielectric properties
because it has more blood vessels – it also contains many more stem cells
which can form blood cells.
Hence, if RFMW radiation has an influence on the development of cancer, ite
effects will be greater for two reasons. First the most vulnerable cells are
only millimeters fron the antenna. (To my knowledge, nobody has calculated
the SAR within the bone marrow of the skull.) And second, the earlier in
life a malign transformation occurs, the more likely it will result in a
clinical malignancy. (14)
11) As reported in the March/April 2002 edition of Microwave News, The
French Government on March 1, 2002 reiterated an advisory to users of mobile
phones, reminding them that, on a precautionary basis, parents should tell
their children to limit the use of wireless phones, and that when using an
earpiece pregnant women should keep the phone away from their bellies and
teenagers should keep it away from their developing sex organs. (15)
Relevant Media articles
12) Article from the U.K. Sunday Mirror , Thursday 27th December 2001
“THE CHILD SCRAMBLER What a mobile can do to a youngster's brain in 2
Scientists have discovered that a call lasting just two minutes can alter
the natural electrical activity of a child's brain for up to an hour
THESE are the first images that show the shocking effect that using a mobile
phone has on a child's brain. Scientists have discovered that a call lasting
just two minutes can alter the natural electrical activity of a child's
brain for up to an hour afterwards. And they also found for the first time
how radio waves from mobile phones penetrate deep into the brain and not
just around the ear.
The study by Spanish scientists has prompted leading medical experts to
question whether it is safe for children to use mobile phones at all.
Doctors fear that disturbed brain activity in children could lead to
psychiatric and behavioral problems or impair learning ability.
It was the first time that human guinea pigs were used to measure the
effects of mobile phone radiation on children. The tests were carried out on
an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl called Jennifer. Using a CATEEN
scanner, linked to a machine measuring brain wave activity, researchers were
able to create the images above.
The yellow coloured part of the scan on the right shows how radiation
spreads through the centre of the brain and out to the ear on the other side
of the skull. The scans found that disturbed brain wave activity lasted for
up to an hour after the phone call ended.
Dr Gerald Hyland - a Government adviser on mobiles - says he finds the
results "extremely disturbing". "It makes one wonder whether children, whose
brains are still developing, should be using mobile phones," he adds. "The
results show that children's brains are affected for long periods even after
very short-term use. "Their brain wave patterns are abnormal and stay like
that for a long period. "This could affect their mood and ability to learn
in the classroom if they have been using a phone during break time, for
instance. "We don't know all the answers yet, but the alteration in brain
waves could lead to things like a lack of concentration, memory loss,
inability to learn and aggressive behaviour."
Previously it had been thought that interference with brain waves and brain
chemistry stopped when a call ended.
The results of the study by the Spanish Neuro Diagnostic Research Institute
in Marbella coincide with a new survey that shows 87 per cent of 11- to
16-year-olds own mobile phones and 40 per cent of them spend 15 minutes or
more talking each day on them. And disturbingly, 70 per cent said they would
not change the use of their phone even if advised to by the Government.
Dr Hyland plans to publish the latest findings in medical journal The Lancet
next year. He said: "This information shows there really isn't a safe amount
of mobile phone use. We don't know what lasting damage is being done by this
"If I were a parent I would now be extremely wary about allowing my children
to use a mobile even for a very short period. My advice would be to avoid
Dr Michael Klieeisen, who conducted the study, said: "We were able to see in
minute detail what was going on in the brain. "We never expected to see this
continuing activity in the brain. "We are worried that delicate balances
that exist - such as the immunity to infection and disease - could be
altered by interference with chemical balances in the brain."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "In children mobile phone use should
be restricted to very short periods of time." (16)
13) Thai minister mulls cellphone ban for youngsters Channel News Asia:
Southeast Asia News, April 5, 2002
“Thailand's interior minister is considering banning the use of cellphones
Purachai Piemsomboon, whose campaign against vice has barred teenagers from
pubs and night spots, cited a Japanese study, which he said concluded that
mobile phones emitted radiation harmful to brain cells and nerves,
especially of young people. He said that if teenagers continued to ignore
the warning, a law might become necessary to prevent them from using
cellphones. He didn't elaborate.” – CNA (17)
14) Bangladesh to ban mobile phones for children (June 3, 2002) http://www.ananova.com
Bangladesh is preparing to ban mobile phones for children under 16 to
protect them from exposure to radiation that could damage their brains.
Mobile phone companies have lashed out at the proposal, saying there is no
scientific basis for the measure. The Environment Minister has outlined the
plan to a conference of doctors and scientists in the capital Dhaka. Experts
are preparing regulations to stop companies from selling mobile phones to
children. Families will be encouraged to keep them away from children. (18)
"There is no scientific evidence that mobile phones are bad for health,"
said Yameen Bakth, a spokesman for GrameenPhone, the largest of the nation's
four mobile phone companies. Mr Bakth said his company has been assured by
manufacturers that mobile phone handsets "pose no health hazard". (19)
What the Australian authorities say:
The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has distributed to every
school in the nation a pamphlet titled Mobile phones. . . your health and
regulation of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. In relation to
possible health effects, the ACA pamphlet states only that "The weight of
national and international scientific opinion is that there is no
substantiated evidence that using a mobile phone causes harmful health
This pamphlet is quite misleading because it gives a very biassed version of
the “science”. When the ACA pamphlet refers to "The weight of national and
international scientific opinion" it is referring to the opinion and radio
frequency exposure guidelines set by the International Commission on
Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) – guidelines recently
incorporated into the Australian RF standard. What is omitted from the ACA
pamplet, however, is an admission of the limited relevance of ICNIRP on
The ICNIRP guidelines are largely based on high-level, short-term animal
exposure studies, conducted to determine exposure limits set to avoid
immediate hazards to health (such as heating of body tissue, called a
thermal effect) from high level exposures. To quote:
“ Most of the established biological effects of exposure to RF fields are
consistent with responses to induced heating. . . Most studies examined
endpoints other than cancer, many examined physiological and
thermo-regulatory responses, effects on behaviour and on the induction of
lens opacities (cataracts) and adverse reproductive outcome following acute
exposure to relatively high levels of RF fields. Very few studies are
relevant to the evaluation of RF exposure on the development of cancer in
humans “. (21)
The ACA pamplet would be more truthful if it added to its conclusion: ” . .
there is no substantiated evidence that using a mobile phone causes harmful
health effects."— because the necessary reserrch has not yet been done.
Is it really good science for the ACA to depend upon high-level, short-term
animal exposure studies to give assurances of safety with the use of mobile
phones, especially where children are concerned? This, in effect, amounts to
Most importantly, ICNIRP does not examine the possibity of other non-thermal
health effects arising from long-term, low-level radiofrequency/microwave
exposure, such as from using a mobile phone for years. As such, it is
scientifically irrelevant to the issue. From a PR viewpoint however,
statements like "The weight of national and international scientific
opinion" do sound impressive at first glance.
In 1995, Dr. Ross Adey, one of the world's most respected and senior
research scientists commented on the "The weight of national and
international scientific opinion"by stating:
"The laboratory evidence for non-thermal effects of both ELF [power
frequency] and RF/microwave fields now constitutes a major body of
scientific literature in peer-reviewed journals. It is my personal view that
to continue to ignore this work in the course of standard setting is
irresponsible to the point of being a public scandal."(22)
So what we have is an ideological battle between a few voices of reason,
based on sound science, calling for a precautionary approach to safeguard
our children's health, versus the might of the mobile phone industry and
their supporters, based on maximising corporate profits. The outcome of this
conflict may not be known for many years, until today's young mobile phone
users are well into their adulthood. By then, if the warnings of health
hazards prove to be true, irreversible damage to the health and wellbeing of
many of these people will have been done.
For every parent who is tempted to allow unrestricted mobile phone use by
their children, they need to ask themselves: Is it worth the risk to health?
And, for Walt Disney Co, if the well-being of their customers is truly their
first priority, they need to seriously re-consider moving into
telecommunications. Do they dare take the risk of litigation if the warnings
of health hazards are found to be real?
1) Maisch D. “Mobile Phone Use: its time to take precautions” ACNEM Journal,
Vol. 20, No. 1, pp 3-10, April 2001.
2) “A Mickey Mouse Policy”. Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp 19, May/June
3) 4) “Wireless Notes” Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp 7, July/August
4) Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, Mobile Phones and Health,
Advice to Industry (1.53), pp 8, April 2000.
6) “German Academy of Pediatrics: Keep Kids Away from Mobiles”, Microwave
News, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp 5, Jan/Feb 2001.
7) Article in the Berliner Mornenpost, July 31, 2001.
8) The Australian Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology
and the Arts References Committee: Inquiry into Electromagnetic Radiation,
June 2000. Also: “Kids phone usage fears” The Sunday Tasmanian, March 18,
9) Maisch D. “Mobile Phone Use: its time to take precautions” ACNEM Journal,
Vol. 20, No. 1, pp 4, April 2001.
10) Personal correspondence with Prof. Olle Johansson, The Experimental
Dermatology Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.
(September , 2001).
11) Personal correspondence with Prof. Sianette Kwee, Department of Medical
Biochemistry, University of Aarhus, Denmark. (September , 2001)
12) Personal correspondence with Dr. Gerard Hyland, University of Warwick,
Department of Physics, Coventry, England. Exerpt from his Report for the
STOA Committee of the EU. (Specifically dealing with children and mobile
13) “WHO Director on Cell Phones: Follow Precautionary Principle”, Microwave
News, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp 6, March/April 2002.
14) “More Reasons Children May Be at Risk”, Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 4,
pp 13, July/August 2002.
15) “Eye on Europe”, Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp 5, March/April 2002.
16) “The Child Scrambler – What a mobile can do to a youngster’s brain in 2
minutes”, U.K. Sunday Mirror, 27 December 2001.
17) “Thai Minister mulls cellphone ban for youngsters”, Channel News Asia:
Southeast Asia News, April 5, 2002.
18) “Bangladesh to ban mobile phones for Children”, Ananova- Orange mobile
news service (http://www.ananova.com) June 3, 2002.
20) “Mobile phones. . .your health and regulation of rediofrequency
electromagnetic radiation” Australian Communications Authority, April 2001.
21) International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. Health
Issues Related to the use of hand-held Radiotelephones and Base
Transmitters. June 1995.
22) Personal correspondence with Ross Adey, August 1995.