Workpackage 1

WP1: EMF and health and development of children and adolescents – exploiting (large-scale) prospective cohorts

Led by Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal (former CREAL)
Collaborating institutions: AU, UU, NIPH, Swiss TPH, SCMCI

Several recent studies have evaluated possible associations between exposure in the pre- and postnatal periods and the risk of behavioural problems in children, and between exposure in adolescence and later behavioural and cognitive effects. However, interpretation of these findings is hampered by exposure data being mainly retrospective and self-reported and/or based on cross-sectional studies. Additionally, there is currently no epidemiological data on how very early exposures (during pregnancy) may be related to reproductive outcomes such as birth weight and prematurity. Large-scale studies with prospectively collected exposure data are urgently needed.

WP1 aims to evaluate potential effects of RF exposure on reproductive outcomes and on neurodevelopment of children and young people, exploiting existing data from large-scale European cohort studies, implementing a standardised outcome assessment of cognitive and behavioural development, and including exposure measurements for near and far-field RF.

Proposed work

The WP will use five prospective birth and child/adolescent cohort studies across Europe.

Four of these are birth cohorts (in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain) that have been following mothers since the start of their pregnancy and are now examining health and development of the children. The fifth is an adolescent cohort study in Switzerland, set up to evaluate health and development outcomes as a result of RF exposures. These cohorts have been selected because they have each already collected unique data to study RF-related health and developmental effects, resulting in the most efficient set of cohorts to fill the above knowledge gaps. For example, the large (N=100,000 at birth) Norwegian MoBa study prospectively asked about the mother’s pregnancy mobile phone use in two different trimesters of pregnancy and has already evaluated child development at various ages up to age 8 years. Analyses of neurodevelopment outcomes up to age 11 have also been conducted in the large Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) cohort (N=100,000 at birth). In these large cohorts, however, outcome assessment is carried out mainly by parental questionnaires. Therefore it is important to confirm findings in smaller cohorts with more detailed outcome data covering the entire childhood and adolescent age range. The Spanish INMA (Infancia y Medio Ambiente), Dutch ABCD (Amsterdam Born Children and their Development), and Swiss HERMES (Health Effects Related to Mobile Phone Use in Adolescents) cohorts, will be used to evaluate cognitive and behavioural development of the children using in-depth neuropsychological computer testing protocols as well as questionnaires.

By combining and comparing findings in these different cohorts GERoNiMO will have large and in-depth datasets to evaluate RF exposure from different sources during different age windows; this has not been achieved before. Exposure questionnaires, spatial far field RF exposure models and RF personal measurements developed by WP6 will be used in the cohorts. The specific tasks in WP1 are: 1) to standardise assessments of outcomes across cohorts; 2) to evaluate potential effects of maternal mobile phone use during pregnancy; 3) to evaluate potential effects of near- and far-field RF exposures during childhood and adolescence; and 4) to integrate other risk factors.