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Cell Phone Exposure in the Womb Tied to Behavior Problems

Jul 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

In another study of cell phone usage and its related adverse health effects, researchers have found that those children whose mothers used cell phones frequently during pregnancy and who are also cell phone users themselves are more likely to exhibit behavior problems.  Dr. Leeka Kheifets, of the UCLA School of Public Health, who helped conduct the study, told Reuters Health that although cell phones offer great convenience, "We need to be looking into what are the potential health effects and what are ways to reduce risks should there be any."

Kheifets and her team reviewed a group of 13,159 children whose mothers participated in the Danish National Birth Cohort study early in their pregnancies.  As part of the research, when the children reached age seven, mothers were asked to complete a questionnaire about their children's behavior and health, the mother's cell phone use during pregnancy, and the child's use of cell phones.

After data were adjusted for factors that could influence the results—a mother's psychiatric problems, socioeconomic factors, etc.—the research revealed that those children who were subjected to both prenatal and postnatal cell phone exposure experienced an 80 percent greater likelihood of having abnormal or borderline scores on tests that evaluate emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity, or problems with peers.

Also, it seems that risks increase for children who were exposed prenatally only, compared with children who were only exposed postnatally, but were lower than for children exposed at both time points.  Cell phone use was infrequent among the children studied--30 percent used a cell phone, but only one percent used a cell phone for more than one hour weekly—radiofrequency exposure is probably not likely to have caused any behavior problems.  Also, Kheifets and her colleagues say that while natal exposure may be lower, research indicates children using cell phones are exposed to more radiofrequency energy than adults, because their ears and brains are smaller.

"Another possible explanation for the observed association might be the lack of attention given to a child by mothers who are frequent users of cell phones," the researchers suggest who also mention that those mothers who used cell phones frequently were of lower socio-occupational status, more likely to have mental health and psychiatric problems, and more likely to have smoked while they were pregnant.   Regardless of the factors, Kheifets says that if there is a real relationship between cell phone use and behavior problems, a simple solution to reduce cell phone exposure is to take advantage of hands-free technology.

Scientists and the federal government have been studying the effects of radiation for years and have established guidelines with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to limit the amount of exposure.  Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that is a form of electromagnetic radiation, according to the National Cancer Institute. Studies are underway to determine if there is a link between cell phone use and tumors of the brain and central nervous system; so far, findings have been inconclusive.


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