The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP) is the largest study in the world to address this issue. It will focus on cognitive functions such as memory and attention, which continue to develop into adolescence.
Around 70% of 11-12-year-olds in the UK now own a mobile phone, rising to 90% by age 14. Most research to date on mobile phones has focused on adults and risk of brain cancers. While there is no convincing evidence that radio wave exposures from mobile phones effect health, scientists remain uncertain as to whether children’s developing brains are more vulnerable than adults’ brains, due to their developing nervous system, enhanced absorption of energy in head tissue, and increased cumulative exposure over their lifetime.
The latest World Health Organisation Organization (WHO) radiofrequency agenda highlights this uncertainty, ranking ‘prospective cohort studies of children and adolescents’, including neurocognitive and behavioural outcomes, as a ‘highest priority research need’.
SCAMP is an independent, three-year study commissioned by the Department of Health, on behalf of multiple funders. Led by researchers from Imperial College London, working with partners from Birkbeck, University of London, and others, it will follow the cognitive development of approximately 2,500 year 7 pupils in participating schools from this September.
Current UK health policy guidelines advise that children under 16 should be encouraged to use mobile phones for essential purposes only, where possible use a hands-free kit or text and, if calls are really necessary, to keep them short. An NHS leaflet giving this advice was produced in 2011 and that advice still stands.
Parents and pupils who agree to take part in the study will answer questions about the children’s use of mobile devices and wireless technologies, well-being and lifestyle in Year 7 and Year 9. Pupils will also undertake classroom-based computerised tasks measuring various cognitive abilities that underpin functions such as memory and attention.
To find out more, or to nominate a school to take part in SCAMP, visit the website at www.scampstudy.org.