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EMF Study
(Database last updated on Feb 18, 2020)

ID Number 1873
Study Type Social Sciences
Model Mobile phone base stations and health concerns in the German population.

Respondents (n = 30,161) to a large survey in Germany that included a few questions regarding mobile phone base stations and risk perception. The authors report 28.5% of respondents had health concerns regarding the emissions from mobile phone base stations, 18.7% were concerned but did not attribute existing health problems to base station emissions, and 10.3% attributed existing health problems to such emissions. Residents living closer to base stations were more likely to attribute health effects to emissions than those living further away. The authors conclude that health concerns of the general public should be taken seriously and improved risk communication is necessary. In a subsequent report (2009) the authors re-evaluated a select group of volunteers from the previous study described above (n=3526) with a more detailed questionnaire. 7.5% attributed health effects to local base stations and 20% were concerned but did not directly attribute health issues to the base stations. The authors report no correlations between health scores and home field measurements or approximated field levels using proximity as a measure. However, those individuals that initially attributed adverse health effects to base station emissions had more health disturbances overall than those who were not concerned and did not attribute health complaints to base stations. A 2010 report surveyed physicians (n = 891) regarding EMF and health, and concluded many of the German public attribute health complaints to EMF even in cases where there is little scientific evidence. Authors' abstract: Kowall et al. (2010): OBJECTIVES: The proportion of general practitioners (GPs) in Germany who assume health impacts of electromagnetic fields (EMF) is assessed. Moreover, factors associated with this risk perception are examined. METHODS: A 7% random sample was drawn from online lists of all the GPs working in Germany. 1,867 doctors received a long version of a self-administered postal questionnaire about EMF and health (response rate 23.3%), 928 doctors received a short version (response rate 49.1%). RESULTS: 37.3% of responders to the short and 57.5% of responders to the long questionnaire agreed "that there are persons whose health complaints are caused by EMF when legal limit values are met". A late responder analysis for the survey with the short questionnaire led to a still lower estimate of 29% for GPs believing in health-relevant effects of EMF. CONCLUSION: About a third of German GPs associate EMF with health complaints and thus deviate considerably from current scientific knowledge. To avoid a strong selection bias in the surveys of the perception of EMF risks, use of short questionnaires and late responder analysis are recommended. Authors' abstract: Berg-Beckhoff et al. (2010): BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to find out what primary care physicians in Germany think about the possible health risks of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and how they deal with this topic in discussions with patients. METHODS: Questionnaires were mailed to a nationwide, representative sample drawn from the regional associations of statutory health insurance physicians in Germany, consisting of 2795 primary care physicians (7% random sample of the total number in the country). 435 of them returned four-page questionnaires (response rate, 23.3%), and 456 returned a one-page questionnaire (response rate, 49.1%). They were asked about their views on the health risks of electromagnetic fields and about their experience with patients on this topic. RESULTS: 61.4% of the primary care physicians reported having discussed the possible health risks of electromagnetic fields with at least one patient. In 73.4% of these discussions, the patient raised the subject first and presumed that such risks do, in fact, exist. Among all discussions in which the patient expressed this concern, the physician considered the association to be plausible only 24.1% of the time. In half of all consultations in which EMF was discussed as a possible danger, the physician recommended some type of protective measure. The most frequent recommendation was to remove electrical equipment; the second most frequent, to move to another location. The physicians' answers to the questionnaires revealed a poor knowledge of the properties and risks of electromagnetic fields. CONCLUSION: Primary care physicians often discuss the putative health risks of electromagnetic fields with their patients, yet their recommendations very often are not evidence-based and might have major consequences in their patients' lives. AUTHORS' ABSTRACT: Kowall et al. 2012 (IEEE #5661): OBJECTIVE: Perception of possible health risks related to mobile phone base stations (MPBS) is an important factor in citizens' opposition against MPBS and is associated with health complaints. The aim of the present study is to assess whether risk perception of MPBS is associated with concerns about other environmental and health risks, is associated with psychological strain, and is stable on the individual level over time. METHODS: Self-administered questionnaires filled in by 3,253 persons aged 15-69 years in 2004 and 2006 in Germany. RESULTS: Risk perception of MPBS was strongly associated with concerns about various other risks like side effects of medications, air pollution or electric power lines. Persons showing more anxiety, depression, or stress were more often concerned about MPBS and also more often attributed health complaints to MPBS. 46.7% of those concerned about MPBS in 2004 expressed these concerns again 2 years later, the corresponding figure for attribution of health complaints to MPBS was 31.3%. CONCLUSION: Risk perception of MPBS is strongly associated with general concern, anxiety, depression, and stress, and rather instable over time. AUTHORS' ABSTRACT: Berg-Beckhoff et al. 2014 (IEEE #5857): Our aim is to explore general practitioners (GPs) knowledge about EMF, and to assess whether different knowledge structures are related to the GPs concern about EMF. Random samples were drawn from lists of GPs in Germany in 2008. Knowledge about EMF was assessed by seven items. A latent class analysis was conducted to identify latent structures in GPs knowledge. Further, the GPs concern about EMF health risk was measured using a score comprising six items. The association between GPs concern about EMF and their knowledge was analysed using multiple linear regression. In total 435 (response rate 23.3%) GPs participated in the study. Four groups were identified by the latent class analysis: 43.1% of the GPs gave mainly correct answers; 23.7% of the GPs answered low frequency EMF questions correctly; 19.2% answered only the questions relating EMF with health risks, and 14.0% answered mostly dont know. There was no association between GPs latent knowledge classes or between the number of correct answers given by the GPs and their EMF concern, whereas the number of incorrect answers was associated with EMF concern. Greater EMF concern in subjects with more incorrect answers suggests paying particular attention to misconceptions regarding EMF in risk communication.

Findings Not Applicable to Bioeffects
Status Completed With Publication
Principal Investigator University of Bielefeld, Germany -
Funding Agency BfS, Germany, DMF, Germany
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  • Berg-Beckhoff, G et al. Occup Environ Med, (2009) 66:124-130
  • Blettner, M et al. Occup Environ Med, (2009) 66:118-123
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  • Kowall, B et al. Int J Public Health., (2012) 57:735-743
  • Berg-Beckhoff, G et al. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health., (2014) 11:12969-12982
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