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The debate on whether or not cell phones cause cancer and whether or not cell phones are safe for kids, or adults for that matter, continues. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that talking on a cell phone increases brain activity near the antenna. While the health effects of these changes are unknown, this study conducted by scientists at the National Institutes of Health is one of the first and largest studies to show that weak electromagnetic radiation, like the radiation from your cell phone, could alter brain activity. Study researchers conducted PET scans on participants as they held phones up to their ear for 50 minutes at a time. Those who had a phone that was turned on, had a 7 percent increase in their brain activity. So what does this mean for the growing number of kids who own cell phones or play games on iPhones?

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According to recent stats, 22 percent of young kids ages 6 to 9 now own a cell phone. And when they get older, it gets worse — 60 percent of tweens 10 to 14 years old and 84 percent of 15 to 18 year olds have their own cell phone. These numbers don’t even look at the large number of younger children, toddlers and even infants who are allowed to play with mom and dad’s cell phones. Are they at risk?

While the study led by neurologist Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, examined 47 adults, not children, it’s important to remember that kids’ developing tissues are more sensitive to radiation and their young age means they have many more years for the health risks to build up.

It’s unclear if “exposure to these external sources, two to three hours a day for five to 10 years [is going to result] in any untoward effects,” Volkow said. “And if you get exposed very early on when the brain is very plastic, would there be any detrimental effects? That’s an important question that needs to be addressed.”

Many young kids and toddlers are more involved with playing games or using kid-friendly apps on cell phones rather than holding the phones up to their ears to talk however. And the PET scans in this study did show that brain activity decreased in relation to the distance from the phone’s antenna.

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The Bottom Line

More studies must be done on cell phones and radiation to get clear answers on their safety. While scientists can’t say for sure that cell phones do — or don’t — cause cancer, or whether or not this stimulation of brain activity is unsafe — you never know what researchers will uncover in 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.

While some parents love the educational and entertaining aspects of cell phones for kids, others worry that we’re allowing our kids to be guinea pigs. We previously reported on a book by Dr. Derva Davis, Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, in which she states that some studies have linked cell phone radiation to potentially deadly side effects including damaged DNA, reduced sperm count and memory loss. And the Environmental Working Group released an extensive evaluation of the hazards of cell phones as well.

So are cell phones safe for kids? Until solid evidence from further studies is found, you be the judge.