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Kids and Cells: Are They Safe?

Amanda Dundas
March 1, 2011

Is it okay to give your child a cell phone?

It's now a familiar sight: The two year old who can navigate an iPhone better than some adults.  My own three year old knows how to turn my phone on, scroll through the screens until he gets to the games or YouTube folders, and put on just what he's looking for.  And he's not alone:  The latest statistics show that 75 percent of 12 year olds and half of all ten year olds own cell phones.  But are these devices really safe for kids to be using?

"Absolutely not," says Dr. Devra Davis, author of Disconnect and the founder of the Wyoming-based Environmental Health Trust, an organization dedicated to researching and educating the public about environmental health hazards.  "Parents need to know that cell phones are two way microwave radios constantly emitting radiation that can damage DNA, cross the blood brain barrier (a natural barrier that protects the brain) and are associated with both cancer and chronic neurological degenerative diseases."

Davis explains that while our cell phones are much smaller and less powerful than microwave ovens, the frequency of their use, the duration, and especially the proximity to our children's bodies - and mostly to their brains - is very alarming.

"I used to be skeptical when people said cell phone radiation was dangerous," she admits.  "But when I looked into the research I was convinced."  The danger is greater for children, she explains, because their skulls and brains are thinner, and because their brains contain more fluid, making them more vulnerable to microwave radiation.

Before you panic, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) counters that current research shows no cause for alarm, stating: "There is no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other health effects, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss.  However, studies are ongoing and key government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to monitor the results of the latest scientific research on these topics."

Still, taking a few minor precautions can cut down any potential health risk.  "If a young child is using your phone as a toy, make sure it's turned off or put it on airplane mode," Davis advises.  "Older kids should text, wear a headset, or use speakerphone."

Never let your child carry their cell phone in a pocket on elsewhere on their body.  Smart phones all carry FCC warnings against holding the phone up to your body, but they're buried so deep in the fine print that most people don't bother to read.  (To see how your Smart Phone measures up, you can find the fine print warnings on Davis's web site here: http://www.environmentalhealth...).

Davis worries that by the time more studies are completed, the damage to our children's health will already be done.  "We're treating the growing number of kids using cell phones as an experiment without any controls," she says.  "I think we'll find ourselves facing a global epidemic of diseases a number of years from now."  Davis says she's already seeing an increasing number of young adults in their twenties battling brain cancer.  "I believe we'll see a statistical impact in another five years," she adds.

A recent New York Times article reported that researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that less than an hour of cell phone use can alter brain activity, raising new questions about the dangers of low level radiation emitted from cell phones.

The researchers cautioned that these findings should not necessarily be interpreted as reason for alarm because the effects to a person's overall health are not known.

But Davis hopes that people will start using their cell phones more wisely.  "Right now, I'm devoting my efforts to teaching parents, teachers, and health care professionals about the dangers of cell phones," she explains.  "I hope that they would no more give them a cell than they would a cigarette or a shot of booze."

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.  Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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