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What Are the EMF Radiation Health Risks for Children?

If you’ve spent even a couple of minutes clicking around my website, you know that I think EMF protection is important for everyone, young and old. But children have increased health risks from exposure to harmful EMF radiation. Why is that?

Why Do Children Have a Greater Health Risk from EMF Radiation Exposure?

Now, I have a separate post about the health risks to babies from EMF radiation. And in that post, I dig into some of the key differences between babies and adults. And children are also more vulnerable to health risks from EMF radiation than adults for the same reasons as babies.

When evaluating the health risks to children from EMF radiation exposure, some of the critical differences that make a child more vulnerable than an adult include:

Children’s Brains are Smaller and Their Skulls are Thinner

Obviously, children are smaller than adults. And so, their heads are smaller. Why does this matter?

Well, let’s say for example that a specific dose of cell phone radiation penetrates three inches into your head. In a child with a smaller head, that penetrates more deeply into the brain, and exposes a larger portion of the brain.

Add to that, children have thinner skulls. Since bone provides a degree of natural shielding against EMF radiation, this means that children have less natural protection.

And in fact, a 2015 study funded by the Environmental Health Trust demonstrated that children absorb significantly more radiation from a cell phone than do adults.

Babies and EMF: Why The Young Have More Health Risks

But children (and babies) are not just small adults. Children are different physically, chemically, biologically and physiologically. And as a result they respond to toxins differently than do adults. And, as a result, there are differences other than size that impact their risk profile.

Children’s Brains are Wetter

Children’s brains aren’t just smaller, they also have a higher level of water content compared to an adult. And this means that their brains conduct (and spread) EMF radiation more effectively and widely than an adults. This amplifies the damage of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Children Are Growing – FAST

Children are obviously growing. What this means, at the cellular levels, is that their cells are dividing and multiplying more rapidly. 

So any damage that results in a cell’s DNA from EMF radiation exposure will be replicated and spread further throughout their bodies.

Featured Video: EMF Health Risks & Safety for Children

Children Are Younger

Add to all this the fact that children are younger. This means they have longer to live. And this, in turn means that they will live with any damage from a source like EMF for much longer. 

This gives more time for the damage to multiply and spread and impact their bodies. And so the damage will accumulate and grow over time.

Taken Together…

In short, in the words of a team of researchers led by Dr. Leif Kheifets:

“Concerns about the potential vulnerability of children to radio frequency (RF) fields have been raised because of the potentially greater susceptibility of their developing nervous systems; in addition, their brain tissue is more conductive, RF penetration is greater relative to head size, and they will have a longer lifetime of exposure than adults.”

Scope of the Problem 

So now you see why children are at greater risk to negative health effects from exposure to cell phone radiation.

The next natural question to ask is how much of a concern should this be? In other words, how widespread is cell phone ownership and usage among children.

In 2016, it was reported that the average age for kids to get their first smartphone was just 10.3 years.

A 2017 report from Nielsen found that around 45% of US children between the ages of 10 to 12 had their own smartphone with a service plan rather than just wifi, meaning they’re constantly connected to cell phone networks.

According to a 2019 survey by Common Sense Media, 53% of children in the United States own a smartphone before the age of 11. 

And a similar survey released in 2020 found that 53% of UK youth have a smart phone by the age of 7 (that’s 2nd grade)! And by the time they are 11, a full 90% have smartphones. 

And the UK study had some other interesting (and disturbing findings), such as:

  • 39% said they could not live without their phone;
  • 57% said they always slept with their phone by their bed (which you should NOT do);
  • 44% expressed discomfort at being in a location without cell service;
  • 42% explained they are “constantly worried” about their battery dying.

This means that younger generations are being exposed to health risks from EMF both earlier in life, and for a longer duration. By the time they reach their teenage years, smartphone use is near to ubiquitous: in 2018, 95% of teens reported that they have access to one.

The average age for kids to get their first smartphone is now just 10.3 years.
Regardless of which survey you look at, the results are clear: a lot of children have cell phones.

While the findings from each of these study are a bit different, they agree that a lot of really young children have smartphones. And it is quite clear from the results that a lot of these surveyed children are expressing symptoms of cell phone addiction, and are already demonstrating unhealthy habits with their tech. And that leads to increased exposures to EMF radiation.

And, keep in mind, that’s just cell phones. And while cell phones are a significant source of EMF radiation, they are not nearly the only source. Not even close. In today’s world, children (like all of us) are exposed to the same type of EMF radiation from multiple cell phones, cell phone towers and antennas, wifi routers, connected devices, smart and electric cars– the sources (and exposures) keep growing exponentially with the growth in connected technology.

Health Effects of Cell Phone Radiation Exposure on Children

So, we see that children are more vulnerable to damage from smart phones, and that a lot of children are using these devices.

Given those facts, what are the differences we might expect to see in negative health effects for children, when compared to adults?

Increased Risk of Brain Tumors

And to start to answer that, we can refer to a 2007 study published by a group led by Dr. Lennart Hardell that examined the incidence of malignant brain tumors among thousands of cell phone and cordless phone users.

figural memory performance in teens
Dr. Hardell found a significantly increased risk of children forming brain tumors from cell phone radiation.

This study is among the first epidemiological studies on this question, following such a large number of subjects over an extended evaluation period.

Hardell and the researchers found that, not only does cell phone use increase the risk of forming malignant brain tumors, but that the risk increased with latency time (i.e., how much time had passed since the cell phone exposure) and cumulative use.

Risk (OR) of Forming Malignant Brain Tumor Compared to “Unexposed” Population (Who Do Not Use Cell or Cordless Phones)

Cumulative Hours on Digital Cell Phone1-5 Yrs Later5-10 Yrs Later10+ Yrs Later
1-1,000120%120%200%
1,001 – 2,000160%150%200%
2,000+180%160%640%

Dr. Hardell’s data reveals some significantly increased risk from supposedly “safe” doses— and that the risk increases both with the dose, and the amount of time that passes.

And if you look at the data presented in this study, you’ll see that those who began using cordless or cell phones before the age of 20 had a 400% increased risk of forming a brain tumor on the side of the head where they hold their phone. In other words, those who started using cell phones while they were children has a massive increased risk of forming brain tumors.

Childhood Leukemia

Of course, brain tumors are not the only types of cancers that are linked to EMF radiation exposure.

As I’ve mentioned, cell phones aren’t the only source of EMF radiation. Among the many others are power lines and electrical wiring in your home. This is because AC power emits a type of EMF called ELF (or extremely low frequency). 

The power lines and electrical circuitry that form our power grid also act as a massive, nationwide (well, really, worldwide) antenna that can pick up and conduct stray EMF from other devices like cell phones and wifi. Dr. Sam Milham coined a term to describe this: ‘Dirty Electricity’.

In ‘Dirty Electricity‘ Dr. Milham correlates the incidence of ‘diseases of civilization’ to the increase of EMF in our environment.

Dr. Milham believes that exposure to this type of EMF noise is the source of significant health problems.

While the power grid is ubiquitous today, when it was initially created, it was installed in different parts of the country at different times. And Dr. Milham was able to show how increases in the death rate correlated with the onset of electrification, independent of where it occurred in the country. 

In one case, building upon existing, accepted research that childhood leukemia showed a peak incidence when the child was 3 to 4 years old, Milham and his colleague, Eric Ossiander, published a study showing that the appearance of this characteristic peak correlated with the introduction of electrification. 

In other words, the trend of appearance of childhood leukemia developing at a certain age is a modern one, which followed introduction of the power grid and this peak does not exist in un-electrified regions, such as sub-saharan Africa.

In short, Dr. Milham has presented strong evidence that the incidence of leukemia in children between the ages of 3 and 4 was caused by EMF radiation. This type of childhood leukemia did not exist until the introduction of the power grid, and it still does not exist in the parts of the world that remain off the grid, like areas in sub-Saharan Africa.

So these are two studies that demonstrate particular risks of children from exposure to EMF radiation. And it is facts like these that led a team of researchers led by Dr. Devra Lee Davis to publish a study in 2013 that concluded, in part, “no other environmental carcinogen has produced evidence of an increased risk in just one decade.”

Cognitive Decline

Obviously, cancer is a very concerning health risk. But it is not the only class of negative health effects that have been linked to cell phone radiation exposure in children.

Other research out of the University of Helsinki in Finland gives reason to suspect that children are susceptible to more subtle effects on brain function. These researchers demonstrated cognitive dysfunction in children resulting from exposure to cell phone radiation. 

Fifteen children were asked to perform auditory memory functions, with and without exposure to cell phone radiation. Their findings “suggest that EMF emitted by mobile phones has effects on brain oscillatory responses during cognitive processing in children.” In other words, exposure to cell phone radiation was shown to affect brain function in these children.

Memory Loss

Another recent study documented a specific symptom of cognitive decline in children resulting from exposure to cell phones: memory loss.

The peer-reviewed study, released in July 2018, was conducted by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH). The results suggest a link between exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) and memory performance in teens — yet another health risk of EMFs to be unearthed by the scientific community. 

For their study, the Swiss TPH team analyzed data from a large sample of nearly 700 Swiss teenagers. To get a detailed picture of how the teens’ brains were developing, the researchers tracked EMF exposure and memory performance over the course of an entire year. 

The study found that “cumulative RF-EMF brain exposure from mobile phone use over one year may have a negative effect on the development of figural memory performance in adolescents.”

cell phones and memory in Swiss teens
The study found that exposure to cell phone radiation negatively impacted students’ figural memory.

So what exactly is figural memory

Figural memory relates to your ability to remember abstract forms. Think of this as different to verbal memory, for example, which is used to remember words. Verbal memory was also measured by the researchers, but not found to be significantly effected by RF exposure.

Figural memory, meanwhile, is mainly located in the right brain hemisphere. An interesting finding of the study was that teens who held their cell phones up to the right side of their heads had the strongest memory deterioration.

“This may suggest that indeed RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible for the observed associations,” Martin Röösli, Head of Environmental Exposures and Health at Swiss TPH, said in a press release.

The 2018 Swiss TPH study isn’t the first to assess the effects of EMF on teenage brain development.

For example, a study published in 2017 concluded that cell phone usage “has a significant negative impact on working memory performance.” What’s more, these researchers found that “the effect is apparent even for a 5 minute use.” That’s right: even five minutes of using a cell phone impairs your memory.

And this 2018 Swiss study is actually a follow-up to a 2015 study, published in the scientific journal Environmental International, which also concluded that there was a strong correlation between RF-EMF exposure and figural memory performance in teens.

The 2018 study is therefore significant in that it confirms prior results.

Not only does this add weight to the findings of the original study, it does so by expanding the research with twice the sample size and more up-to-date information.

While some studies around cell phone use rely on participants’ own reports to get estimates of how much RF they’re exposed to, both the 2015 and 2018 memory studies had a more solid approach to data collection. Rather than rely purely on self-reporting, they also collected data from cell phone operators.

This objective information on duration of calls and number of text messages sent allowed the researchers to get a more accurate estimate of EMF doses.

Though operator data was not collected for all participants, the researchers received a strong sample of quantitative mobile phone use. This detailed data allowed them to calibrate the self-reported data and account for overestimations and biases.

Ultimately what the researchers found was that impaired memory development was most strongly correlated with time spent making voice calls, when EMF exposure to the head was strongest and most direct.

ADHD

In the past few years an increasing number of studies have identified a strong correlation between ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and exposure to EMF radiation.

ADHD is an increasingly common disorder that manifests in children as a malfunction in cognitive and behavioral activity.

As the American Psychiatric Association explains:

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. ADHD also affects many adults. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought).

A 2008 study surveyed 13,000 Danish children with behavioral problems. Those whose mothers reported cell phone while pregnant or who reported cell phone use by their children early in were 80% more likely to have symptoms of ADHD.

Since then, the body of evidence linking cell phone radiation to ADHD has expanded considerably. And in 2017, a pair of researchers surveyed the published science on this question and concluded “symptoms of retarded memory, learning, cognition, attention, and behavioral problems have been reported in numerous studies and are similarly manifested in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, as a result of” exposure to cell phone radiation.

Academic Performance

With so much evidence accumulating demonstrating the links between cell phone radiation and cognitive function, memory loss and behavioral disorders, you would expect to see impact in overall academic performance in children. 

And in fact, that is what we find. And it’s not just because of the physiological and biological effects of cell phones– it’s also because they are, quite simply, a massive distraction.

A 2017 study from Rutgers University–New Brunswick, published in the journal Educational Psychology, found that students who use their cell phones and other devices for non-academic purposes during lectures perform worse in end-of-term exams.

Cellphones in Classrooms
Cell phones divide attention in the classroom.

Interestingly, it wasn’t just the students who used devices whose grades suffered. Students who didn’t use devices, but attended the same lectures as those who did, still ended up with lower grades.

So why is this?

You’ve heard of multitasking. It’s often thought of as a valuable skill — one that will turn us into productivity superheroes.

But various studies have shown that multitasking is a myth. Our brains simply don’t work that way. Instead, we’re much more productive when we focus our attention on one thing at a time.

“Many dedicated students think they can divide their attention in the classroom without harming their academic success,” said lead researcher and professor of psychology Arnold Glass in a press release, “but we found an insidious effect on exam performance and final grades.”

In other words, students may think they’re able to multitask by listening to the lecture and using their internet-enabled devices at the same time. But in reality, their attention is pinging back and forth between the two, leading to a decrease in focus.

While the students’ ability to comprehend the lectures wasn’t found to be compromised by this divided attention, long-term retention of the content was. The device-using students did fine on immediate in-class quiz questions — but their performance in later exams suffered by at least half a grade.

Enough to make a difference between a pass or a fail.

One question you may be asking is, why might students who simply go to classes where devices are allowed, even if they don’t use one themselves, have lower grades?

The answer is most likely that the mere presence of the devices causes a distraction to everyone present.

It’s worth looking back to another well-publicized study from early 2017 that tested the effects of smartphones on cognitive performance.

In a series of experiments, participants completed tests with their smartphones either on their desk, out of sight but in the same room (e.g. in a bag or pocket), or with their phones completely inaccessible in another room.

The study found that “even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the participants whose smartphones were in another room displayed the highest available cognitive capacity out of the three groups; those with phones on their desk displayed the lowest.

How Cell Phone Safety Standards Ignore Children

Before concluding this post, I want to take a moment to highlight a major deficiency in cell phone radiation regulations.

Now, to be clear, I (and many, many others) believe that the regulations that govern cell phone radiation emissions are vastly inadequate to protect any of us from the increasing number of negative health effects that have been documented.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that cell phone emissions regulations are sufficient to protect us. 

Even if that were true (and it’s not), these regulations are clearly inadequate to protect children.

See, in the United States and much of the rest of the world, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) uses a measurement called SAR (or specific absorption rate) to regulate cell phone radiation. In other words, cell phone radiation is regulated based on how much radiation you absorb when you use your phone.

But actually, that’s not quite true. They’re not regulated based on how much you absorb. They are regulated based on how much radiation is absorbed by a dummy that approximates a 240 pound man

SAR Dummy
A SAR Testing Dummy Used by the Swiss Office of Public Health

But the vast majority of children do not weigh 240 pounds. Not even close. The average weight of an 11 year old is just 81.5 pounds– or about 25% of a SAR dummy.

And, as I discussed above, children absorb more of this radiation.

In other words, not only are children more vulnerable to health risks and damage from cell phone radiation, but also cell phone regulations are fundamentally and completely inadequate to protect children from this damage.

Radiation Safety for Children

Simply put, using the same cell phone, in the same position, for the same length of time does more harm to a child than to an adult. And there is a large and growing number of negative health effects that science has demonstrated can result from these exposures.

On this basis alone, it was entirely reasonable for the Stewart Report (published in 2000 by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones at the request of England’s Minister for Public Health) to suggest limiting EMF exposure of British infants and children: 

…children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head, and a longer lifetime of exposure. In line with our precautionary approach, at this time, we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children.

So, children have health risks from exposure to EMF radiation that are unique, and higher, than those of adults. But the good news is, it’s not difficult or expensive to help your child live healthier. 

To get started, learn about EMF radiation health safety and protection for children at home, and you can see why I always say the best EMF protection is free.

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