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Mobile Phones and ADHD: Is There a Link?


Yoon Hwan Byun of the Department of Medicine at Dankook University College of Medicine in Korea recently conducted a study that suggests a possible link between symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) and mobile phone use. Byun wanted to expand upon the existing literature on this topic by looking at how radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) affected developing brains with prolonged exposure. The data that is available on this topic points to a possible, but inconclusive, link. Because mobile phone exposure is virtually impossible to avoid, it is important to know if the RFs of mobile phones can cause or influence ADHD. Another variable in the equation are blood lead levels, which appear to be higher in children with RF exposure. Although some research has been able to show that mobile phone exposure in utero increases the risk of conduct and behavior problems in children, there is no existing research that demonstrates a clear relationship between prenatal mobile phone exposure and later neurological developmental impairment in children.

Therefore, Byun assessed more than 2,400 elementary school children for mobile phone exposure and ADHD symptoms via parental reports. Two years later, Byun re-interviewed the participants and found that children who used mobile phones for voice calls were more likely to develop symptoms of ADHD than those who didn’t, but this was only statistically significant in children who were also exposed to high levels of lead. However, all children who played games on phones were at increased risk for ADHD symptoms with low-lead blood level children showing particular vulnerability. Also, the children who stopped using mobile phones during the study period had a much sharper decline in symptoms than those who continued using mobile phones. Byun added, “Therefore, preventing the use of mobile phones in children may be one measure to keep children from developing ADHD symptoms regardless of the possible roles of mobile phone use in ADHD symptoms.”

Byun notes that although these findings shed new light on the possible impact of RF-EMF on developing brains, there may be a reverse causality. In other words, children who spend an exorbitant amount of time playing video games may do so because of more severe ADHD symptoms, such as inattention and hyperfocusing. Nevertheless, the results of this study do offer further evidence that lead exposure and RF exposure increase dramatically with mobile phone use. The full impact of these exposures on ADHD and other cognitive and behavioral outcomes has yet to be clarified and more work should be devoted to this issue.

Byun Y-H, Ha M, Kwon H-J, Hong Y-C, Leem J-H, et al. (2013). Mobile phone use, blood Lead levels, and attention deficit hyperactivity symptoms in children: A longitudinal study. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59742. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059742

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  • yoshi April 17th, 2013 at 3:25 PM #1

    I know that we want there to be a correlation with this, but it feels a bit like stretching to me.

  • terry April 17th, 2013 at 10:24 PM #2

    With everybody having a cellphone it is virtually impossible to keep kids away from one. Kids do what they see us do and cellphones are no different to them.T hey see us use and they want to too. My two year old niece picks up the phone and speaks into it. While I do try and keep it away from her because I know there is radiation, it is not possible to isolate kids from cellphones. Even if the doubts in this study are proven what are we going to do? Throw away our cellphones?I don’t think so. We need a technological answer to this, to somehow use the cellphones and till shield ourselves from harmful radiation.

  • Bayne April 18th, 2013 at 3:46 AM #3

    The mobile phone has become like the TV was for another generation.
    Parents use this as a babysitter, when they don’t have time for the kid or want them to be quiet.
    Can’t tell you how many times I see this in a restaurant, a great opportunity for the family to be talking and everyone is instead staring at a screen.
    While this might not necessarily CAUSE ADHD I can definitely see how this immediate gratification culture has risen from it and how that could contribute to an increase in thsoe numbers across the board.

  • Lowell April 18th, 2013 at 1:35 PM #4

    So many times I have read of a study that says mobile phones are harmful to us. SO many times I have read a study that says they are not. With such studies coming in every other day I dont know which side to even believe anymore…!

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