Parents of young children are disregarding health concerns and continuing to allow their youngsters to use mobile phones, research revealed today.
The number of children aged under 10 who own mobiles has doubled in the past two years despite repeated warnings over the health risks they pose.
Health campaigners say parents are taking the view that the security that handsets provide outweighs the possible damage caused to young brains from radiation.
Statistics from international research consultancy MobileYouth show that just over a million children aged five to nine in the UK have their own phones.
That figure is predicted to rise to 1.5million by 2007.
It also predicts that this year the number of under-16s in the UK owning a mobile phone will grow to 5.5million – an increase of nearly half a million on last year.
The average age at which a child gets a first phone is eight – compared to 12 in the US.
Youngsters are thought to be at higher risk from mobile phone radiation because their nervous system is still developing, they absorb more energy though their head and are likely to be exposed to emissions for more years.
Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, has called on parents to ban under-eights from using mobile phones and wants teenagers to restrict their use and rely more on sending text messages.
Michael Clarke, radiation expert at the Health Protection Agency, said there is a contradiction in parents calling for mobile phone masts to be erected away from schools and then allowing their youngsters access to handsets which expose them to far higher levels of radiation.
Handsets expose users to between 1,000 and 10,000 times more radiation than mobile phone masts. Dr Clarke said: “We feel we should discourage prolonged use of mobile phones.
“There isn’t actually a proven health risk. What we are talking about is the possibility of one emerging after prolonged use.
“Our view is that it is sensible to take a precautionary approach to mobile use, especially in the very young, because it is such a new thing.
“I cannot predict what I might find out tomorrow. Children should not be spending hours a day talking to their friends. Parents are the best people to judge the needs of their children but they should have all the information.”
The UK’s first mobile phone specially designed for children was withdrawn from sale by distributor Communic8 earlier this year after a Government report raised health concerns about youngsters using handsets.
The MyMo phone was aimed at four to eight-year-olds to use in an emergency.
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