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Cell phones raise behavioural risks in children

Children exposed to cell phones in the womb and after birth had a higher risk of behaviour problems by their seventh birthday.

Cell phones raise behavioural risks in children

Children exposed to cell phones in the womb and after birth had a higher risk of behaviour problems by their seventh birthday, possibly related to the electromagnetic fields emitted by the devices.

The use of mobile phones is becoming one of the most widespread modes of exposure of the population to non-ionising radiation though this kind of radiation exposure is still not related to any disease. To see if cell phone use by the mother during and after pregnancy harms the child's behaviour, researchers used data from 28,745 children enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC), which followed the health of 100,000 Danish children born between 1996 and 2002, as well as the health of their mothers. Almost half the children had no exposure to cell phones at all, providing a good comparison group. The data included a questionnaire mothers completed when their children turned seven, which asked about family lifestyle, childhood diseases, cell phone use by children, and other health-related questions. The questionnaire included a standardised test designed to identify emotional or behaviour problems, inattention or hyperactivity, or problems with other children. Based on their scores, the children in the study were classified as normal, borderline or abnormal for behaviour.

After analysing the data, it was found that 18 percent of the children were exposed to cell phones before and after birth, up from 10 percent in the 2008 and 35 percent of seven-year-olds were using a cell phone, up from 30.5 percent in 2008. Virtually, none of the children in either study used a cell phone for more than an hour a week.

The researchers then compared children's cell-phone exposure both in utero and after birth adjusting for prematurity and birth weight; both parents' childhood history of emotional problems or problems with attention or learning; the mother's use of tobacco, alcohol, or drugs during pregnancy; breastfeeding for the first six months of life; and hours mothers spent with her child each day.

The researchers used the last two variables - breastfeeding and hours spent each day with the child - as a proxy for the kind of attention mothers gave their young children. This was partly to determine whether a mother who spent a lot of time talking on a cell phone during pregnancy or later might be less attentive to her children - something that might also be linked to bahaviour problems in her offspring.

The research did find an intriguing association between children's exposure to cell phones and their behaviour. Compared to children with no exposure to cell phones, those exposed both before and after birth were 50 percent more likely to display behaviour problems. Children exposed to cell phones in the womb, but not after they were born, showed a 40 percent higher risk of borderline behaviour problems. And those not exposed to cell phones before birth, but who were using them by age seven years, were 20 percent more likely to have behaviour problems.

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