Tazeen Sharif reports on the health hazards the youth face.

"If mobile phones were a type of food, they simply would not be licensed."
British physicist Dr Gerald Hyland in the medical journal The Lancet

T here is no doubt that a mobile phone is an exceptionally useful tool. But every technological advance that provides such dramatic benefits has its consequences. According to a survey by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the fastest growing group of mobile phone users are children and young people.

Cell phones are becoming increasingly popular, yet most of us are unaware of the damage they are causing to our brains by exposing us to radiation. The Bioelectromagnetics Research Team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, has evidence that shows how low intensity and pulsed radiation can exert subtle influences with serious health problems. The human body is an electrochemical instrument of exquisite sensitivity. Oscillatory electrical processes of various kinds, each characterised by a specific frequency, some of which happen to be close to those used in GSM or Global System for Mobile communication, determine its orderly functioning and control.

Extra precautions for younger mobile users are advisable because any health effects might be more pronounced in their developing brains. Their thinner skulls might also afford less protection against cell phone radiation. As they grow older, the symptoms become more prevalent.

Affects reaction time

For most students today, owning a mobile phone is a status symbol and a sign of maturity. For their parents, it is a means of keeping tabs on their children. However, scientists have proved that a call lasting two minutes shows significant changes in the brain's electrical signal patterns.

Mobile phones are arguably one of the most radiative appliances, apart from the microwave oven, and people are putting them to their heads, perhaps the most sensitive part of the body. A research team at the University of Washington has proved that the excessive use of a cell phone severely impairs memory and reaction times.

Hands-free mobile speakerphones cause even more problems because they typically emit more brainwave interference than handheld units. Tests conducted in China at the Microwave Institute of Zhejiang Medical University demonstrated the effects of exposure to environmental electromagnetic fields. Researchers say that when the brain's electro-chemical communications are repeatedly zapped by lightning-like cell phone pulses headaches, fatigue, lethargy, nausea, dizziness, depression, hearing loss, slow learning and even Alzheimer's can result.

Fairly low levels of electromagnetic radiation can also change the human body's sleep rhythms and affect the immune system.

Small is bad?

Smaller cell phones are very popular among the young. But the smaller the phone, the more power it needs. This means more radiation.

Research conducted at Stanford University and the Integrated Laboratory Systems in the Research Triangle Park have shown that a wide range of frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum can have biological effects including damage to the DNA. More recent results from a Swedish scientific team at the Karolinska Institute have suggested that continuous use of a mobile phone for a decade or longer can lead to a small increase in the probability of getting a certain type of brain tumor.

A majority of people in the UAE have unhealthy mobile phone use habits. A lot of pre-teens, even when accompanied by their parents, carry a cell phone. It is advisable for parents to discourage their children from being too dependent on it. Use it only in times of emergency.

It is exciting to be a part of a growing technological world and all should enjoy its benefits, but in moderation. Keep calls short, avoid non-essential calls and use technology intelligently.

— The writer is a communication engineering student at the Ajman University of Science & Technology Network