Last week’s announcement by a Swiss-Scandinavian group of researchers in America’s Journal of the National Cancer Institute downplaying the risk for small children of developing brain tumors from cell phone radiation certainly sounds reassuring, but serious questions still linger:
For one, the study didn’t take into account the latency (that is, the amount of time between exposure and cancer diagnosis) in any potential cases of cell-phone induced cancer, secondly, according to webmd.com, the group itself was "supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and the Swiss National Science Foundation, as well as the Swiss Research Foundation on Mobile Communication, which counts several European communications companies among its founders and supporters." And thirdly, it seems that the time-frame used in the study was based on the time of ownership of cellphones, rather than actual hours spent each day by the kids on their cellphones.
The Huffington Post has a follow-up report raising many of these same issues:
"It’s ridiculous to think that because you didn’t find a significant increase in brain cancer among kids that now cell phones are safe," [says Devra Davis, president and founder of the consumer advocacy group Environmental Health Trust]. She likened the study to looking at 16-year-olds who smoked as children to see if they had lung cancer. “You’d find nothing,” she said. Dr. Keith Black, a brain tumor expert at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, agreed. "It usually takes decades of exposure for a person to be at an increased cancer risk," he told The Huffington Post, adding that the extent of the exposure observed in the study was extremely small. "It’s interesting that most of the studies that have shown a correlation between brain cancer and cell phone use have tended to look at long-term exposure — at least 10 years — and at higher doses such as using a cell phone for 60 minutes or more each day," said Dr. Black. "Studies that have tended to not find a link looked at short-term use — maybe an hour or so a month."
Perhaps some equally important questions to consider was how a study conducted under these conditions (particularly one so blatantly funded by the cell phone industry) could have come out in the journal in the first place and in what ways certain media organizations might have initially misconstrued the results. See more on this topic on The Atlantic here.
Faulty research aside, I’m still really, really tempted to give my daughter a cellphone when she comes of age (basically as soon as she’s old enough to walk outside unsupervised) – which makes me the target market for phone-makers like Firefly, a company that manufactures and sells cellphones for small children (and their overprotective parents).
Nevertheless, giving a small child their own phone has its downsides – ranging from the potential for out-of-control phone bills and any long-term psychological effects on both child and parent(s) to the still-undetermined threat of radiation poisoning from holding a handset to one’s head for prolonged periods of time. Indeed, it would seem rather disconcerting to see a six-year-old walking around our living and jabbering away into a real handset (as opposed to the pink, toy cell phone with which my three-and-a-half-year-old is so fond of imitating her mother’s phone conversations).
So the question remains – how young is too young for a child to receive a cell phone? What do you think? You can share your thoughts here.
Kara Chin contributed to this post.