Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use: Systematic Review of Experimental Studies

By Huss, Anke; Egger, Matthias et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use: Systematic Review of Experimental Studies


Huss, Anke, Egger, Matthias, Hug, Kerstin, Huwiler-Muntener, Karin, Roosli, Martin, Environmental Health Perspectives


OBJECTIVES: There is concern regarding the possible health effects of cellular telephone use. We examined whether the source of funding of studies of the effects of low-level radiofrequency radiation is associated with the results of studies. We conducted a systematic review of studies of controlled exposure to radiofrequency radiation with health-related outcomes (electroencephalogram, cognitive or cardiovascular function, hormone levels, symptoms, and subjective well-being).

DATA SOURCES: We searched EMBASE, Medline, and a specialist database in February 2005 and scrutinized reference lists from relevant publications.

DATA EXTRACTION: Data on the source of funding, study design, methodologic quality, and other study characteristics were extracted. The primary outcome was the reporting of at least one statistically significant association between the exposure and a health-related outcome. Data were analyzed using logistic regression models.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Of 59 studies, 12 (20%) were funded exclusively by the telecommunications industry, 11 (19%) were funded by public agencies or charities, 14 (24%) had mixed funding (including industry), and in 22 (37%) the source of funding was not reported. Studies funded exclusively by industry reported the largest number of outcomes, but were least likely to report a statistically significant result: The odds ratio was 0.11 (95% confidence interval, 0.02-0.78), compared with studies funded by public agencies or charities. This finding was not materially altered in analyses adjusted for the number of outcomes reported, study quality, and other factors.

CONCLUSIONS: The interpretation of results from studies of health effects of radiofrequency radiation should take sponsorship into account.

KEY WORDS: electromagnetic fields, financial conflicts of interest, human laboratory studies, mobile phones. Environ Health Perspect 115:1-4 (2007). doi: 10.1289/ehp.9149 available via http://dx.doi.org/[Online 15 September 2006]

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The use of mobile telephones has increased rapidly in recent years. The emission of low-level radiofrequency electromagnetic fields leading to the absorption of radiation by the brain in users of handheld mobile phones has raised concerns regarding potential effects on health (Rothman 2000). However, the studies examining this issue have produced conflicting results, and there is ongoing debate on this issue (Ahlbom et al. 2004; Feychting et al. 2005). Many of the relevant studies have been funded by the telecommunications industry, and thus may have resulted in conflicts of interest (Thompson 1993). Recent systematic reviews of the influence of financial interests in medical research concluded that there is a strong association between industry sponsorship and pro-industry conclusions (Bekelman et al. 2003; Yaphe et al. 2001). This association has not been examined in the context of the studies of potential adverse effects of mobile phone use. We performed a systematic review and analysis of the literature to examine whether industry involvement is associated with the results and methodologic quality of studies.

Methods

We searched EMBASE (http://www.embase.com) and Medline (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?DB=pubmed) in February 2005. Key and free text words included "cell(ular)," "mobile," "(tele)phone(s)" in connection with "attention," "auditory," "bioelectric," "brain physiology," "cardiovascular," "cerebral," "circulatory," "cognitive," "EEG," "health complaint(s)," "hearing," "heart rate," "hormone(s)," "learning," "melatonin," "memory," "neural," "neurological," "nervous system," "reaction," "visual," "symptom(s)," or "well-being." The search was complemented with references from a specialist database (ELMAR 2005) and by scrutinizing reference lists from the relevant publications. Articles published in English, German, or French were considered.

We included original articles that reported studies of the effect of controlled exposure with radiofrequency radiation on health-related outcomes ["human laboratory studies" in World Health Organization (WHO) terminology (Repacholi 1998)]. …

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