Exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and behavioural problems in Bavarian children and adolescents


Only few studies have so far investigated possible health effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) in children and adolescents, although experts discuss a potential higher vulnerability to such fields. We aimed to investigate a possible association between measured exposure to RF EMF fields and behavioural problems in children and adolescents. 1,498 children and 1,524 adolescents were randomly selected from the population registries of four Bavarian (South of Germany) cities. During an Interview data on participants’ mental health, socio-demographic characteristics and potential confounders were collected. Mental health behaviour was assessed using the German version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Using a personal dosimeter, we obtained radio-frequency EMF exposure profiles over 24 h. Exposure levels over waking hours were expressed as mean percentage of the reference level. Overall, exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields was far below the reference level. Seven percent of the children and 5% of the adolescents showed an abnormal mental behaviour. In the multiple logistic regression analyses measured exposure to RF fields in the highest quartile was associated to overall behavioural problems for adolescents (OR 2.2; 95% CI 1.1–4.5) but not for children (1.3; 0.7–2.6). These results are mainly driven by one subscale, as the results showed an association between exposure and conduct problems for adolescents (3.7; 1.6–8.4) and children (2.9; 1.4–5.9). As this is one of the first studies that investigated an association between exposure to mobile telecommunication networks and mental health behaviour more studies using personal dosimetry are warranted to confirm these findings.

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This work was supported by the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Programme. Dr. Anja Kühnlein helped with the coordination, data management and data analyses of the study and is thus gratefully acknowledged. We thank all participants for their participation as well as the study team for the field work. The participating towns are acknowledged for their support and the provision of rooms for the interviews. The authors declare they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Silke Thomas.

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Thomas, S., Heinrich, S., von Kries, R. et al. Exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and behavioural problems in Bavarian children and adolescents. Eur J Epidemiol 25, 135–141 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-009-9408-x

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  • Behavioural problems
  • Radio-frequency electromagnetic fields
  • Children
  • Adolescents
  • SDQ
  • Dosimetry