Question of the Week

October 7, 2002  


"Back-packs that children carry to school could face weight limits, under legislation being considered in the United States.... There are worries that children are risking a lifetime of back problems by carrying bags overfilled with heavy books to school.... And a back care organisation in the United Kingdom says that it shares this anxiety over excessive loads in school bags and is 'sympathetic' to weight restrictions."

This is not an isolated problem. Students from California to New Jersey are having problems, and officials in the United Kingdom are realizing that this is a problem affecting children and teens in their country, as well.

"Concerned that students who lug heavy backpacks will develop spinal problems, lawmakers in two states may go further than any others to try to reduce excess pounds. New Jersey lawmakers are weighing a bill that proposes setting maximum weight standards for textbooks, while a California measure would require school districts to figure out ways to reduce the weight. Other states have done studies of backpack weight and children's back pain, but none have passed legislation requiring schools to do something about it."

More and more work is expected from children at younger and younger ages. While students in elementary school are bringing home their books so that they can do their homework or study for a test, teens are carrying around their books throughout the day due to increased security and decreased use of lockers.

The following excerpt from a New Jersey School Board Association press-release helps to quantify the problem:
"TRENTON, August 1, 2002�When you hear today‚s schoolchildren complain about homework being a pain, they may not be exaggerating. Their aching backs and necks might be caused by the heavy loads in their backpacks, according to doctors. The issue first gained attention three years ago with an American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons report. The Academy found that more than half of the physicians it surveyed reported seeing students whose back and shoulder pain came from carrying backpacks that were too heavy. The AAOS recommended that students carry loads no greater than 15% of their body weight. Also that year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that more than 3,400 pupils between ages 5 and 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks or book bags."

So, what does this mean? When assigning homework, what do teachers need to consider? How do teachers accommodate the different sizes of their students, while still expecting all of their students to have the books and materials they need to do their classwork and homework each day?
Fifteen percent seems a reasonable amount to carry, but fifteen percent of the child who weighs sixty pounds may seem unrealistic with the increasing academic standards placed on students, teachers, and schools.

The California Physical Therapy Association states: "Improper backpack use can cause injury, especially to children with young, growing muscles and joints. Injury can occur when a child uses harmful postures such as arching the back, leaning forward or, if only one strap is used, leaning
to one side. According to physical therapists, these postures can cause spinal compression and/or improper alignment, and may hamper the proper functioning of the disks between the vertebrae that provide shock absorption."
(This site includes advice by physical therapists for safe backpack use and selection, while including warning signs that a backpack may be causing a problem for an individual child.)

So we know there is a problem. There has been for years. Students are carrying more and more. Even in schools where lockers are not being removed, students are expected to bring heavy loads home in order to complete their homework. Some say electronic books are the answer, while others suggest thinner textbooks or less homework.

Questions of the Week:
What can be done to help keep growing students safe and healthy while still providing them with the information they need in a form that they can transport? What can students, teachers, parents, and schools do to resolve the problem? Where can the money come from to make the necessary changes?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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