Do mobile phones pose risk to children's brains?

Researchers aim to establish whether mobile phones affect children's mental development

A young boy talks on his mobile phone
(Image credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

A major investigation has been launched to find out whether mobile phones and other wireless devices pose a risk to children's mental development.

The study will track 2,500 children aged 11 and 12 from September this year, looking at their cognitive abilities, such as thinking skills, memory and attention. It will then repeat the tests in 2017.

Reuters describes it as the "largest investigation to date, evaluating any potential relationship of mobile or smartphone phone use on the developing brains of teens".

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The research, led by Imperial College London and funded by the government and technology industry, aims to provide evidence to help parents and children make a more informed choice about using mobile phones. The World Health Organisation has said research in this area is of the "highest priority".

Around 70 per cent of the 11 to 12 age group now own a mobile, according to the BBC. Evidence of harm from mobile phones has yet to be found, but research into long-term heavy use is limited.

Much of the research so far has focused on adults and the risk of brain cancer, with the impact of mobile phones on children less clear.

The NHS advises that children under the age of 16 should use mobile phones only for essential purposes and with hands-free kits. Some fear that children's brains may be more susceptible to damage because they are still developing.

Lead investigator Dr Mireille Toledano said: "The advice to parents is based on the precautionary principle given in absence of available evidence and not because we have evidence of any harmful effects.

"As mobile phones are a new and widespread technology central to our lives, carrying out the study is important in order to provide the evidence base with which to inform policy and through which parents and their children can make informed life choices."

Researchers are writing to 160 secondary schools in the outer London area asking pupils to take part.

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