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An international prospective cohort study of mobile phone users and health (COSMOS): Factors affecting validity of self-reported mobile phone use

Publication date: 

22 Jan 2018


doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2017.09.008


Toledano MB, Auvinen A, Tettamanti G, Cao Y, Feychting M, Ahlbom A, Fremling K, Heinävaara S, Kojo K, Knowles G, Smith RB, Schüz J, Johansen C, Poulsen AH, Deltour I, Vermeulen R, Kromhout H, Elliott P, Hillert L

Publication type: 



This study investigates validity of self-reported mobile phone use in a subset of 75 993 adults from the COSMOS cohort study. Agreement between self-reported and operator-derived mobile call frequency and duration for a 3-month period was assessed using Cohen's weighted Kappa (κ). Sensitivity and specificity of both self-reported high (≥10 calls/day or ≥4h/week) and low (≤6 calls/week or <30min/week) mobile phone use were calculated, as compared to operator data. For users of one mobile phone, agreement was fair for call frequency (κ=0.35, 95% CI: 0.35, 0.36) and moderate for call duration (κ=0.50, 95% CI: 0.49, 0.50). Self-reported low call frequency and duration demonstrated high sensitivity (87% and 76% respectively), but for high call frequency and duration sensitivity was lower (38% and 56% respectively), reflecting a tendency for greater underestimation than overestimation. Validity of self-reported mobile phone use was lower in women, younger age groups and those reporting symptoms during/shortly after using a mobile phone. This study highlights the ongoing value of using self-report data to measure mobile phone use. Furthermore, compared to continuous scale estimates used by previous studies, categorical response options used in COSMOS appear to improve validity considerably, most likely by preventing unrealistically high estimates from being reported.