EMF scare returns: Maternal appliance use and asthma in offspring?

We were right that air pollution wasn’t causing asthma in kids; it’s actually hair dryers, vacuums and microwaves — or at least that’s what’s being claimed in a new study.

“Women with high exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy may have a higher risk of asthma in their children,” according to the media release for the new study from Kaiser Permanente researchers.

Although the study is a first-of-its-kind, the researchers pretty quickly jettisoned the word “may”:

While the replication of the finding is needed, the message here is exposure to electromagnetic fields is not good, said study lead author De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

Here’s the description of the study:

In this prospective study, researchers compared the daily magnetic field exposure of 801 pregnant women in Kaiser Permanente Northern California and used electronic medical records to follow their children for 13 years to see which children developed asthma. The study found that women with high MF exposure in pregnancy had a more than threefold risk of asthma in their offspring compared with mothers whose exposure level was low.

The researchers attempt to justify their result by noting:

The prevalence of asthma has been steadily rising since the 1980s, making it the most common chronic condition among children… EMF exposure is ubiquitous. Because of the widespread exposure, any adverse health effect of EMF could impact many people and cause a serious public health problem…”

But the researchers might have a better argument if they could show that asthma prevalence has been increasing since the 1880s when widespread electrification began.

Past that, the study was designed to look for an association between EMF exposure and and miscarriage, not EMF and asthma. The asthma finding is there fore mostly likely to be an artifact of the study design — one most likely found through the multiple comparisons fallacy (i.e., if you look for enough associations, one or more will occur simply by chance).

Also, since the study was not designed for the asthma outcome, insufficient data were collected to rule out confounding risk factors. Maternal exposure to EMF was based on a single 24-hour measurement during the first or second trimester. Then there’s the up to 13-year time lag between exposure and diagnosis.

Let’s not forget that there is no plausible biological explanation for how EMF could cause asthma.

This study is comforting in that it is as junky as the 1990s-era studies that killed the EMF scare in the first place.

25 thoughts on “EMF scare returns: Maternal appliance use and asthma in offspring?”

  1. I am going to give you a “Mister Rogers” moment —
    “Can you say ‘Bonferroni Theorem’?” “I knew you could!”

    Too many studies are fit only for “The Journal of Irreproducable Studies” and not worth the paper they’re printed on!

  2. If children are protected from germs, dirt, air pollution,other children, animals, new cars, old cars, new paint, old paint, manure, the city environment, the suburbs or the country, like farms and all their filth, I think we can expect children with defective immune systems suffering from strange and exotic illness. For heaves sake let you children grow up and be exposed to what some would call nature or others the natural selection. Unintended consequences really tip up the controllers. Stop micromanaging peoples lives without consideration of what the outcome will be. I almost forgot, we don’t know what the outcome will be do we?

  3. Saying the the set of data was insufficient is the same as saying the data was insufficient. As to scientific and academic writing, while I may grant that, it’s also why it’s almost unreadable and boring beyond belief. Were we to write in this mode all writing would written in the 3rd person passive voice. Wretch. And clearly the tone of this article is NOT scientific as the opening sentence reads “we were right…” Not a single scientist nor academician would open with this, nor use it anywhere. Instead it would have read something like, “the data suggested that previous studies…yadda, yadda”. If even shows up in the quoted text. “The study found…” “EMF could…” Weasel innuendos. Not statements.

  4. Either usage is correct as long as you are internally consistent.

    The data was a mess.
    The survey data were analyzed

    Either is technically correct, though the singular is more commonly used.

  5. Asthma is an inflammatory disease. Like most other inflammatory (i.e. allergic) diseases, it is associated with histamine reactions, which cause localized swelling in bodily tissues, resulting in restricted blood flow, pressure on nerves, joint pain, etc.
    The best antihistamine available is adrenaline. Without injections, adrenaline release into the body can be stimulated by aerobic exercise.
    Let the kids go outside and play every day – dancing, swimming, basketball, running, bicycling, anything that gets them to exercise the large muscles and pump the blood.

  6. >Again data is a COLLECTIVE noun unless you are specifically shaking out individual data points.

    Which is obviously true in this case:
    “insufficient data were collected to rule out”. They collected more than one individual datum, but not enough data. Plural.

    And since you quoted Websters:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/data
    “It is almost always treated as a plural in scientific and academic writing”.

  7. The key is “depending on the context”. The context here is singular. Further even if correct, there is a subset of correct referred to as awkward. At the very best “data were” is awkward.

  8. “Data” is the plural of “datum” as all of us expert 8th grade Latin scholars are well aware. A datum is one of them, data are more than one of them and may be an array or collection, which are collective nouns and may be used as either singular or plural, depending on context.

    At least that was the way of it when I was also an 8th grade English scholar, but I suppose things could have changed since we liked Ike.

  9. Then when you are paid for that study find all the issues that presented in the Woodstock Group and claim they would have been prevented by not attending Woodstock!!

  10. PJ

    Data is a plural word, just as oranges is. The singular form is datum. Datum is, data are.

  11. I believe it has been shown that children in the cleanest homes are the most likely to develop asthma. It would seem likely that the homes with the greatest EMF exposure are the cleanest, explaining the result.

  12. After the Greens send us back to living in caves, using fire to warm and cook, candles for light – problem fixed, no EMF energy.
    Then we will have lung disease instead.

  13. Its been found that theories create stress which cause irrational behavior. All theories should be peer reviewed, so the reviewers can test the stress levels involved.On this theory at least. We would see the outcome as irrational acceptance of the theory.
    At this point I quote US secretary General of Defence, Donald Rumsfield:
    [T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
    We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know, we don’t know.
    Let God sort them out…

  14. “data WERE” aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!! Either written by a Brit or someone ignorant of American English grammar. Data is a COLLECTION of whatever, not a sea of points. So this the equivalent of a saying “a flock (of say geese) were overhead”. Cringe.

  15. I couldn’t agree more with LouisianaJoe. These asthmatics would do well to stop breathing altogether, just to justify the research. Better yet, the researchers could stop breathing instead, thus keeping yet one more inane theory from leaking out into the public arena and scaring people who have finally just gotten over the whacky global warming BS!

  16. People with asthma breathe air more than they use sources of EMF. If they would quit breathing, they would no longer have asthma.

  17. Or to repharase one of the quotes in the article…

    “The prevalence of texting has been steadily rising since the 2000s, making it the second most common cause of deaths among teenage drivers… CO2 exposure is ubiquitous. Because of the widespread exposure, any adverse effect on the judgement of teenagers could impact many people and cause a serious public problem…”

  18. Let me try my hand at designing a study of similar validity…

    1. Identify and assess all the children of people who attended Woodstock.

    2. Identify and assess the children of a control group of people who didn’t attend Woodstock.

    3. Publish conclusion that all the problems concentrated in the control group and not found in the Woodstock group would likely have been prevented by attending Woodstock.

    Hmmmm… that was easy!

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