While many people cannot live without their smartphone, a recent study from the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastucture reminds us of the potential harm of these devices. The issue for smartphones is they emit radiofrequency electromagnetic, or RF/EMF, fields. This particular study focuses on children, due to the conclusions finding children absorb more of this potential carcinogen, but yet another study that raises RF/EMF concerns.
And if you are confused as to whether or not this is something to be concerned about, you're not the only one. Even our federal government tends to be unclear in its message: Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits it doesn't know if the possibility for risk exists, but claims if so the risk is "probably pretty small."
However, another federal entity, the Federal Communications Commission opted for cell phone manufacturers to comply with a Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR, of 1.6 watts per kilogram, averaged over one gram of tissue -- a more restrictive level than the guidelines used in most of Europe. For those with the newest iteration of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, you can find the RF exposure here.
Pretty scary stuff ...
Still, the study found some terrifying results. Building upon the title "Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults," it found that children are indeed at a greater risk of absorbing microwave radiation due to smaller bodies, thinner skulls, and more absorbent brain tissue, fetuses are more vulnerable than children, and current exposure limits are inadequate. It also called for wireless devices sold as toys to be monitored more closely.
And this isn't the only study to point toward risks of owning a smartphone. Another new study -- this one from the University of Missouri -- found that users are physiologically and psychologically addicted to their smartphones. After iPhone users had their devices taken, they reported significant increases in heart rate, anxiety, and blood pressure while completing simple tasks, and they fared worse at completing those tasks. The survey didn't specify whether these results are unique to iPhone users, but it seems as though the results likely aren't brand specific and can broadly be applied to smartphone users.
Speaking of blood pressure, time to bring it down
Before you turn off your smartphone and line your windows with tin foil, time to bring it down a notch. First, as Forbes author Robert Szczerba correctly points out, this is a new and minor journal, uses limited data sets, and even these researchers note "the time from exposure to resultant tumor is three or more decades." Any one of these can result in errors with their conclusions, and all three can result in a flawed study. Still, I agree with the author that more research is needed, in light of the claims of harm to children.
Perhaps more devastating, however, is the University of Missouri study. Addiction takes many forms, but the end result is mostly the same -- lower quality of personal relationships and the aforementioned health issues. Although it should be mentioned that smartphone and Internet addictions are not formally part of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, studies are increasingly showing they can lead to addictive behavior.
However, I believe the biggest direct threat to smartphone users is entirely avoidable: avoiding texting and driving. Matter of fact, some studies show that texting while driving may present a greater accident risk than driving while under alcohol and drug intoxication. In any case, putting down your phone more often and enjoying your surroundings can help alleviate each one of these issues.