Health Effects of Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation on Children and Adolescents – Background

Children and adolescents are considered a population at risk  in all matters relating to the health effects of exposure to radiation, whether the source of radiation is environmental or personal. The mental and physical characteristics of the young differ from those of adults; therefore exposure to radiation may affect their health in a different way.


End devices (such as mobile phones, portable computers and tablets), TV and radio broadcasting antennas and base stations are all sources of radiofrequency (RF) radiation, which is part of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum.  The extent of exposure to radiofrequency radiation depends on the distance of the individual from the site of emission.  Exposure is greater when the source of radiation is close to the body (e.g. if the mobile phone is held close to the head when in use).  The radiation from TV and radio antennas and from base stations is relatively low, as long as some distance from the source is maintained.


The known and proven effect of radiofrequency radiation is the heating of body tissues (thermal effect). Most devices emitting radio waves operate at a power where the thermal effect is minimal, and is not a significant hazard. Radiofrequency radiation may also have health effects unrelated to heating (non-thermal effects).  Consequently, scientists and policy makers focus on health hazards that may result from other (non-thermal) effects of radiation.


In 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that high priority should be given to research on the effect of radiofrequency radiation on the health of children.  Accordingly, a number of large population studies are being conducted throughout the world, aimed at detecting potential effects of exposure of children to non-ionizing radiation emitted by various technologies (Mobi-kids  and SCAMP studies). However, the results of these studies will only be published in a few years' time.


Studies investigating the effect of radiofrequency radiation on children are of two kinds, corresponding to the source of radiation: some studies deal with personal exposure, such as that arising from the use of mobile phones, while others deal with environmental exposure, such the radiation emitted by antennas and base stations.


Effect of personal exposure to radiofrequency radiation on the health of children and adolescents

Extensive use of mobile phones by children and adolescents began relatively recently – mainly since the beginning of the 21st century. The use of other technologies emitting radiofrequency radiation (e.g. tablets) became popular only about a decade later.  Since it is expected that children and adolescents will use these technologies throughout their lives, it is important to know whether such technologies affect the young population's health, and if so, in what way.


To date, only a few studies have investigated personal exposure to radiofrequency radiation and its potential health hazards to children and adolescents.  In these studies, the following aspects of personal exposure to radiofrequency radiation have been investigated: