Which Alarming Health Concerns You Can (and Can’t) Ignore

Scary medical headlines grab all the attention, but these everyday habits may be more likely to harm you.

By Teresa Dumain
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine December 2013

health scares carDan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest
HEALTH FEAR: Radiation from cell phones
• WORRY MORE ABOUT: Texting while driving

Fact: Over the past few years, some studies have suggested a possible link between cell phone use and an increased risk of specific types of brain tumors. Cell phones emit radiation, after all, and radiation can cause cancer. But the operative words here are suggested and possible, and the results are far from conclusive.

Many more recent studies express skepticism. Although the World Health Organization added cell phone radiation to its list of possible carcinogens in 2011, that list also includes items such as pickled vegetables. The WHO’s threshold for a possible carcinogen is pretty low, says Richard Besser, MD, chief health and medical editor for ABC News. He points out one important distinction: There are different kinds of radiation, which do different things. Ionizing radiation (which includes X-rays and some UV rays) damages DNA and may cause cancer. But cell phones emit nonionizing radiation, which does not damage DNA, explains Dr. Besser, who wrote Tell Me the Truth, Doctor. What experts agree on: Given the increasingly young age at which people start using cell phones, we need more research on long-term risks.

However, there is ample evidence that cell phones do pose an immediate threat of a different kind: endangering drivers and passengers. Consider this: Sending or reading a text can take your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, akin to driving the length of a football field at 55 mph … blind. And you’re 23 times more likely to crash if you text while driving. “Studies show that driving while texting is equivalent to driving drunk,” says Dr. Besser. “It’s tempting to pick up that phone when you hear an incoming text message. The smartest move: Turn off your phone before you get in the car, or put it in the glove compartment.”

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