Health Canada: Parents Should Limit Cellphone Use for Kids Under 18

After years of confusing statements from experts on the real risks of cellphone usage, Health Canada has finally come out with a more definitive warning to parents to limit usage for kids under 18.

While the new warning seems at first glance to be only a slight shift from the previous Health Canada position (which told people to limit their cellphone use if they were concerned about unproven allegations that the devices could increase one’s risk of brain cancer), they are significant in putting credibility in the assertions.

According to CBC news:

The new advice, a response to a World Health Organization report issued in May, reminds people they can reduce their exposure to radio-frequency energy by limiting the length of their cellphone calls and substituting text messages or chats on hands-free devices in the place of phone-to-ear cellphone calls.

Radio-frequency energy is the type of radiation emitted by cellphones. It’s also given off by AM-FM radios and TV broadcast signals.

There are an estimated 24 million cellphones in Canada; five billion people around the globe owned cellphones in 2010.

The question related to the health effects on children has to do with their developing brains, their smaller heads, and the potential for accumulating more years of cellphone exposure when they start young. Are they more susceptible to the potentially carcinogenic effects of cellphones? With 35% of kids getting their first cellphone at the age of 8, are we unwittingly subjecting them to a higher risk of getting brain cancer when they grow up?

It would be great if the experts could tell us for sure, but the research on the topic is divided, and frequently controversial (where the research is sponsored by the telecommunications industry, for example, or where the conclusion offered differs from the actual data presented within the article).

We do know that one influential 2009 study that reviewed the 11 long term studies on health risks of cellphone use found a roughly 50% increased risk in developing brain tumours on the side of the head preferred for cellphone use. We also know that both the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and now Health Canada believe there are enough risks to warrant a warning.

So what should we do as parents? The experts recommend limiting the amount of time we spend using the cellphones to begin with. Since most kids tend to use their phones mostly for texting rather than talking, the risk is already reduced. Experts say the health impact of mobile phones comes from placing the antenna next to the head, so holding it in your hands is presumably less of a problem.

Other suggestions are to use a hands-free system (or the speaker function) rather than holding the phone up to your head or using a Bluetooth device that hooks onto your ear. And finally, use this Health Canada warning as an impetus for conversation with your kids about their (and your) use of cellphones. They should know the concerns so they can factor them into their own decisions about how often talking on the phone fits into their lives.

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