Are mobile phones affecting children’s brains?

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Thousands of UK schoolchildren will be invited to participate in a study on how technology affects the brain development and memories of young people.

The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) intends using 2500 11 and 12-year-olds for the study which will last for a period of three years. It will examine if mobile phones and other wireless devices have an effect on the cognitive functions of children.

The funding for the project will be obtained from the Department of Health, will be led by Imperial College London researchers, with some funds from the mobile phone industry.

In excess of 160 secondary schools based in the outer London area will be invited to participate.

The lead researcher, Dr Mireille Toledano, said that schoolchildren in this age group are continuing their development of cognitive functions which are essential to everyday tasks, such as basic maths skills, educational achievement, reading ability and intelligence. Since mobile phone usage is so popular and widespread among this age group, it has become necessary to provide reassuring proof that there are no negative effects.

Pupils and parents who opt to participate in the study will be required to complete questionnaires based on the usage of mobile devices by the children. The pupils will undergo computerised tests to measure the functions of their brains. Some of them will be asked to wear monitors which will assess radio wave exposure.

Around 70% of all 11 and 12-year-olds in the UK own a mobile phone and by the time they reach the age of 14, the percentage increases to 90.

Most of the research that has been done thus far has placed focus on adults and the risk of brain cancer.

There has been no convincing evidence which indicates adverse health effects from radio wave exposure. However, scientists are still uncertain about whether the developing brains of children are more at risk than the brains of adults.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that research into the effect of radio waves on adolescents should be treated as high priority.

The current UK health policy recommends that children under 16 years of age should only make use of mobile phones for essential purposes. They should use hands-free kits or text messaging. If it is absolutely essential to make a call, it should be kept short.

This is a precautionary measure and there is no existing evidence that clearly indicates that mobile phones can cause harm to young people.

Image Credit: anthony kelly

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