Teddy Bear Mobile 'Puts 4-Year Olds at Risk from Radiation'
Telegraph News, November 29, 2005
by Nic Fleming, Medical Correspondent
A teddy bear-shaped mobile phone aimed at children as young as four was launched yesterday.
The manufacturers of the Teddyfone claimed it would help parents keep track of their children while minimizing potential health hazards posed by radio frequency emissions.
With no screen and only four buttons that can be pre-programmed by parents, the device prevents users from being targeted by text message bullying, calls from strangers or inappropriate adult material.
The makers of the Teddyfone claim that the rate at which the body absorbs energy from the handset, known as its peak specific absorption rate, is 0.16w/kg - close to the lowest available. Most mobiles have SAR values of 0.4 to 0.7w/kg.
Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency, advised parents earlier this year to discourage use of mobile phones by children under eight as a precaution against potential health risks.
Yesterday the agency was joined in its criticism of the Teddyfone by even the industry body that represents mobile phone operators.
A spokesman for the Mobile Operators Association said: "The companies we represent don't market their products to under-16s, as recommended by Sir William Stewart. We believe that is a responsible policy and is in line with the advice on health."
Paul Liesching, the managing director of Teddyfone Ltd, who said the device was aimed at four- to 10-year-olds, pointed to research showing that a quarter of seven- to 10-year-olds owned mobiles. He said parents should be able to buy low-emission handsets that also protected children from other potential dangers.
"This is a basic parental decision. If you see the utility and benefits of your child having a mobile phone are greater than any potential risks, give your child a mobile phone. If you don't, then don't.
"One million children under 10 already have mobile phones which potentially put them at risk from text-bullying, excessive charges and inappropriate material. Teddy-fone is a response to clear demand in the market."
The new handset has an SOS button that allows children who feel under threat to connect automatically to a parent's mobile.
A child monitor option allows concerned parents to listen in to what is happening around their child and an optional child locator service sends parents a map of where their son or daughter is, on request, for 50p.
The handsets and two years' line rental are free. Calls are charged at standard rates.
Sir William, the Government's leading adviser on radiation, said in January that children under nine should not use mobiles and that those aged nine to 14 should make only short, essential calls.
He said: "When it comes to suggesting that mobile phones should be available to three- to eight-year-olds, I can't believe for a moment that can be justified.
"My advice is that they should not have them because children's skulls are not fully thickened, their nervous systems are not fully developed and the radiation penetrates further into their brains."
Published research suggests that a child's brain absorbs 50-70 per cent more of the emissions from a mobile phone than an adult's.
Alasdair Philips, of consumer group Powerwatch, said yesterday: "Marketing a product at children when there is increasing evidence that it may be causing them both short-term and long-term harm is at the very least highly irresponsible." Dr Michael Clarke, of the Health Protection Agency, said: "It's up to any company to justify its product in light of our advice that children should be discouraged from excessive use of mobiles."
Communi8, a British company, lost about £500,000 after launching Mymo, a mobile for under-eights, last year. It withdrew the product following Sir William's comments.
A survey of 1,232 parents of children under 16 carried out on behalf of Teddyfone found that 35 per cent of respondents were concerned about the potential health hazards for children under 10 with mobiles. Nearly a quarter were worried about their child's phone being stolen.