Are mobiles bad for your health?

Are mobiles bad for your health?
Health Matters
Dr Andrea Fitzgerald


These days, almost everyone owns a mobile phone. It is increasingly common even for young children to have their own mobile phone. Ever since their advent, there have been public fears about their safety, especially in relation to cancer risk. Concerns about mobile phone health risks are particularly acute when it comes to children who, due to their thinner skulls and growing cells, are more prone to damage from radiation.

The difficulty is that, in the grand scheme of things, mobile phones are very new devices, and so the health risks may not become truly apparent for many years — much like smoking, asbestos, and nuclear reactors in the past.

Alternatively, it may well be that the risks associated with mobile phone use are very small or non-existent, and this is the reason no negative effects have been proven.

An expert report published by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources concludes that ”no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. [These] have not been found to cause cancer.”

However, in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified mobile phones as risk group ‘2B’ — meaning that they could ‘possibly’ cause cancer in humans. In addition, last year a major review by the World Health Organisation found that mobile phone use is ”possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

For this reason, countries such as Sweden and Britain recommend a precautionary approach to the use of mobile phones, particularly in relation to children. The advice is to restrict mobile phone use by children (defined as those under 16) be limited to short, essential calls only. Also, they suggest that children should use a hands-free kit, which means the transmitter will be further from the child’s head.

Major studies of the health of people living near mobile phone base stations have been conducted and there is no clear evidence that people are at risk from the radiation from these stations.

However, there are many benefits to having a mobile phone, not least the possibility of having immediate telephone contact in an emergency. Additionally, with the advent of mobile internet technology, useful and often critical health information can easily be accessed even in an emergency — even on a remote mountainside or at sea.

The overall conclusion of the research into mobile phone safety so far is that some caution should be exercised when using phones, especially when it comes to children, but that there are currently no definite health risks. Except one: the report published by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources concludes that: ”The only established adverse health effects associated with mobile phone use, (both hand-held and hands-free) is an increase in traffic accidents when they are used while driving.”

While it is wise, as the guidelines suggest, to carefully limit the exposure of the under-16s to mobile phones, concerned parents should realise that the mobile phone most dangerous to their children is the parent’s own: research proves that using it while driving with your children in the car provides by far the most serious risk to their health.