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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. 1.

    Punamäki R, Wallenius M, Nygard C, Saarni L, Rimpelä A. Use of information and communication technology (ICT) and perceived health in adolescence: the role of sleeping habits and waking-time tiredness. J Adolesc. 2007;30:569–85.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Koivusilta L, Lintonen T, Rimpelä A. Intensity of mobile phone use and health compromising behaviours—how is information and communication technology connected to health-related lifestyle in adolescence? J Adolesc. 2005;28:35–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Söderquist F, Carlberg M,Hardell L. Use of wireless telephones and self-reported health symptoms: a population-based study among Swedish adolescents aged 15–19 years. Environ Health. 2008; 7:18.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Haarala C, Bergman M, Laine M, Revensuo A, Koivisto M, Hämäläinen H. Electromagnetic field emitted by 902 MHz mobile phones shows no effects on children’s cognitive function. Bioelectromagnetics. 2005;7:144–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Preece A, Goodfellow S, Wright M, Butler S, Dunn E, Johnson Y, et al. Effect of 902 MHz mobile phone transmission on cognitive function in children. Bioelectromagnetics. 2005;26(Suppl 7):138–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Kheifets L, Repacholi M, Saunders R, van Deventer E. The sensitivity of children to electromagnetic fields. Pediatrics. 2005;116(2):e303–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP). Mobile phones and health (the Stewart report). 2000 [cited 2008 16.04]; Available from: http://www.iegmp.org.uk/report/text.htm.

  8. 8.

    Leitgeb N. Mobile phones: are children at higher risk? Wien Med Wochenschr. 2008;158(1–2):36–41.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Divan H, Kheifets L, Obel C, Olsen J. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phone use and behavioral problems in children. Epidemiology. 2008;19(4):523–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Raven-Sieberer U, Wille N, Bettge S, Erhart M. Mental health of children and adolescents in Germany. Results from the BELLA study within the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS). Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz. 2007;50:871–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Thomas S, Kühnlein A, Heinrich S, Praml G, von Kries R, Radon K. Exposure to mobile telecommunication networks assessed using personal dosimetry and well-being in children and adolescents: the German MobilEe-study. Environ Health. 2008;7(1):55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Klasen H, Woerner W, Rothenberger A, Goodman R. German version of the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ-German)—overview and evaluation of initial validation and normative results. Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr. 2003;52:491–502.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Goodman R. The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. J Child Psychol Psychiatr. 1997;38(5):581–6.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Goodman R, Meltzer H, Bailey V. The Strenghts and Difficulties Questionnaire: a pilot study on the validity of the self-report version. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998;7:125–30.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Robert Koch-Institute. KiGGS—The German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents 2007 [cited 2008 16.04]; Available from: http://www.kiggs.de/experten/erste_ergebnisse/Basispublikation/index.html.

  16. 16.

    Rethage T, Eikmann T,Herr C. Einführung in die mehrdimensionale Erfassung von Umweltbesorgnis, in Arbeitsmedizinische Aspekte der Metallbearbeitung - Gesundheitsschutz bei Einsatz neuer Technologien. Innsbruck; 2004.

  17. 17.

    Hodapp V, Neuhann F, et al. Evaluation eines Fragebogens zur Erfassung von Umweltbesorgnis. Zeitschrift für Gesundheitspsychologie. 1996;IV(1):22–36.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Institute for Applied Social Sciences (INFAS). Identifying the general public’s fears and anxieties with regard to the possible risks of high frequency electromagnetic fields of mobile telecommunications (annual survey). Final report of the survey 2003. Bonn, Germany; 2003.

  19. 19.

    Hölling H, Erhart M, Raven-Sieberer U, Schlack R. Behavioural problems in children and adolescents. First results from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS. Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz. 2007;50(5–6):784–93.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Ronning J, Handegaard B, Sourander A, Mørch W. The Strengths and Difficulties Self-Report Questionnaire as a screening instrument in Norwegian community samples. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004;13:73–82.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    van Roy B, Groholt B, Heyerdahl S, Clench-Aas J. Self-reported strengths and difficulties in a large Norwegian population 10–19 years. Age and gender specific results of the extended SDQ-questionnaire. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006;15:189–98.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Goodman R, Renfrew D, Mullick M. Predicting type of psychiatric disorder from Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) scores in child mental health clinics in London and Dhaka. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2000;9:129–34.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Goodman R, Ford T, Corbin T, Meltzer H. Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) multi-informant algorithm to screen looked-after children for psychiatric disorders. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004;13(Supplement 2):II25–31.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Ahlborg G. Validity of exposure data obtained by questionnaire. Two examples from occupational reproductive studies. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1990;16:284–8.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Vrijheid M, Deltour I, Krewski D, Sanchez M, Cardis E. The effects of recall errors and selection bias in epidemiologic studies of mobile phone use and cancer risk. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2006;16:371–84.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Kaye W, Hall H, Lybarger J. Recall bias in diseases status associated with perceived exposure to hazardous waste. Ann Epidemiol. 1994;4:393–7.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Bergqvist U. Exposure assessment in epidemiology and practice. Exposure and radiofrequency fields and mobile telephony. Arbeite Och Hälsa. 2001;10:499–507.

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Thomas S, Kühnlein A, Heinrich S, Praml G, von Kries R, Nowak D, et al. Personal exposure to mobile phone frequencies and well-being in adults: a cross-sectional study based on dosimetry. Bioelectromagnetics. 2008;29:463–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Brassett-Harknett A, Butler N. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: an overview of the etiology and a review of the literature relating to the correlates and lifecourse outcomes for men and women. Clin Psychol Rev. 2007;27:188–210.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Silke Thomas.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

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