The Department of Health of the UK government has commissioned the world’s biggest study into the effects of mobile phones’ radio waves on children’s brains, nine years after a government study said children should only use mobile phones when “absolutely necessary”.
The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (Scamp) will examine about 2,500 schoolchildren at the ages of 11 and 12, collect data about how they use the phones and how much time they spend on them, and assess them two years later on mental functions such as memory and attention, which continue to develop into the teenage years.
While no study has ever shown harmful effects from the low-power radio waves, known as “non-ionizing radiation”, generated by mobile phones, almost all have focused on adults. The last advice on children’s use of mobile phones came in the Stewart report in January 2005, in which Sir William Stewart suggested that as a precaution children under eight should not use mobile phones at all, and that older children should use it for texting rather than voice calls. Since then ownership of mobile phones has continued to rise: an estimated 70% of 11- to 12-year-olds in the UK now own a mobile phone, rising to 90% by age 14.
The Scamp study will be led by Dr Mireille Toledano, of the faculty of medicine at Imperial College, who has written papers on investigations into claims of cancer links between low-power emissions from mobile phones and from power lines. The Scamp study was commissioned by the Department of Health through the Research Initiative on Health and Mobile Telecommunications, which is funded jointly by the government and mobile phone operators.
Current UK health guidelines, based on the 2005 Stewart report, say children under 16 should be encouraged only to use mobile phones for essential calls, and where possible to use a hands-free kit or to send text messages. When they do have to make calls, they are advised to keep them short•