BASEL, Switzerland — Don’t want your child to have a cellphone? One recent study gives you good reason to make kids wait as long as possible for their first mobile device: it appears that radiation from phones can hurt a teenager’s memory.
A research team at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute says that radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) may negatively affect an adolescent’s brain from cellphone exposure, causing potentially harmful effects on his or her memory performance. The authors say having the device close to one’s head lead to the greatest amount of radiation exposure.
The researchers studied nearly 700 public school students in Switzerland between ages 12 and 17. They examined how RF-EMF exposure from mobile phones over a year’s time affected memory in the adolescents, and found that memory processed and stored in the right brain hemisphere was particularly worsened. It’s believed that participants primarily held the phone up to the right side of their heads when talking, which likely led to the right hemisphere impairment.
“This may suggest that indeed RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible for the observed associations.” says Martin Röösli, Head of Environmental Exposures and Health at Swiss TPH, in a statement. “A unique feature of this study is the use of objectively collected mobile phone user data from mobile phone operators.”
But Röösli couldn’t rule out that puberty and other external factors may also have played a role in memory development among the children. Further research is needed to rule out such factors, as well as to determine what, if any, long-term risks come with radiation exposure from phones.
The authors note that handheld smartphone usage, such as browsing the web, texting, or playing games led to notably less exposure to the radiation and was not believed to impair the participants’ memory.
““Potential risks to the brain can be minimized by using headphones or the loud speaker while calling, in particular when network quality is low and the mobile phone is functioning at maximum power,” says Röösli.
The study is a follow-up to a report published in 2015 with twice the sample size and more recent information about how the adolescent body absorbs RF-EMF while using different types of mobile devices. The 2015 study showed negative affects of RF-EMF exposure to the parts of the brain exposed while using a mobile cellular device. The new study confirmed these findings. Both of these studies are the first epidemiological studies to estimate the cumulative RF-EMF brain dose in teenagers.