The fourth course at the International School of Bioelectromagnetics addressed various aspects of the epidemiology of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). In this overview, inspired by the lectures and the discussions among participants, we summarize current knowledge on exposure to EMF and disease risk, with emphasis on studies of use of mobile phones and brain tumours and exposure to power lines and childhood leukaemia. Sources of bias and error hamper straightforward conclusions in some areas and, in order to move forward, improvements in study design and exposure assessment are necessary. The scientific evidence available to date on possible long-term effects from exposure to ELF and RF fields is not strong enough to revise current protection limits based on the known acute effects of such exposures. Precautionary measures may be considered to reduce ELF exposure of children or exposure to RF during mobile phone use, keeping in mind that it is unclear whether they involve any preventive benefit. Possible health effects from mobile phone use in adults and in children should be investigated further by prospective epidemiological studies with improved exposure assessment and brain tumour incidence rates should be monitored. Further studies on the relation between childhood leukaemia and ELF magnetic fields would be worthwhile if they focus on heavily exposed groups and attempt to minimize possible selection bias. In conclusion, epidemiological studies conducted with appropriate diligence can play a key role in finding the answers.
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