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For the record

"Is your child's mobile phone scrambling their brain?" Image

"Is your child's mobile phone scrambling their brain?"

On 3rd June 2014, The Sun (£) published a quiz for parents to judge the “risks” of their children’s mobile phone use. The piece made a number of claims about the health impacts of mobile phone usage during pregnancy and childhood. We asked Dr Mireille B. Toledano* to respond to each of them.


“A 2008 Swedish study at the University Hospital in Orebro found that people who started using mobile phones before the age of 20 had a more than five-fold increase in malignant brain tumours.”

Dr Mireille B. Toledano:

“This research was not specifically investigating children’s mobile phone use. Information was collected via a self-reported questionnaire. Information on amount and type of use (voice calls, SMS etc) was not obtained and there was no validation through objective data (eg mobile phone operator records). It is very hard for all of us to accurately remember how much we have used our mobile phones in the last month, let alone many years ago. We also know that those people with brain tumours or their relatives might recall usage differently to people who are healthy as they often need to ‘find’ a reason as to why they became sick. This is called recall bias and can make interpretation of study findings very difficult. Moreover, the study findings of a 5-fold increase in two types of brain tumours (astrocytoma and acoustic neuroma) was based on a very small number of cases and controls (15/14 and 5/14 respectively). Such small numbers give rise to substantial uncertainty in the results and it is not possible to draw reliable conclusions from these data.”


“Children absorb up to ten times more of the radiation emitted by mobile phones into their brains than adults.”

Dr Toledano:

“The possibility that children might be more vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation because their brains and nervous systems are still developing and because they will accumulate a longer lifetime of exposure was raised by the Stewart Report in 2000. This is still an open question. However, the latest report from the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (2012) stated that the overall balance of evidence to date does not support the hypothesis that children are more vulnerable than adults. There are still very few studies of sufficient size and sufficient quality specifically on children. New and ongoing studies in children, such as SCAMP and Mobi-Kids, will therefore provide the evidence base to address current scientific uncertainties and inform policy through which parents and children can make informed life choices about their use of mobile phones.”


“Charging a mobile in your bedroom at night can affect sleep patterns and behaviour.”

Dr Toledano told us in a For the record in March 2014 that:

“Evidence to date that the actual electromagnetic fields from mobile phones can affect sleep is weak. However, many people do report that their sleep is affected by use of mobile phones. This association is likely to be a behavioural one and not related to the electromagnetic fields themselves.”


“Pregnant women who regularly expose their children to mobile phone emissions run an increased risk of behavioural problems in their children.”

Dr Toledano:

“Much of the concern regarding behavioural problems arises from studies by Divan et al (2008, 2012). This research found that exposure to mobile phones prenatally and, to a lesser degree, postnatally was associated with behavioural difficulties in 13,000 7-year old children in the Danish National Birth Cohort. However, these studies were limited by retrospective self-reporting by the mothers and the children had existing diagnoses of behavioural difficulties. Therefore, the current evidence for any association between mobile phone use by mothers during pregnancy and behavioural problems in their children is insufficient for us to draw any firm conclusions. There are ongoing prospective studies that are addressing this scientific question.”


*Dr Mireille B. Toledano, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London leads both the SCAMP study, mentioned in the article, which is the largest study in the world investigating children’s use of mobile phones as well as the UK arm of the COSMOS study, which is the largest study on non-ionizing radiation and health in adults worldwide.

Document type: For The Record

Published: 1 July 2014

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