Young Students' Heavy
Backpacks Lead To Spinal Injuries
By Patricia J. Mays
AP Writer
"..more than 3,300 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in emergency rooms last year for injuries related to bookbags."
ATLANTA (AP) -- With a 20-pound backpack strapped to her back, 9-year-old Shana Berkeley looks as if she could be toppled by a gust of wind.
She insists she needs all that "stuff" in the pack, but it's so heavy, she frequently can't lift it.
So sometimes she just rolls her stuff.
Shana is like many students who are lugging their increasingly heavy loads in luggage carts or bookbags with built-in wheels, which are the latest twists in school gear because they help some 50-pound pupils handle loads half their weight.
It may look cute, but pediatricians say it's a serious matter -- schoolchildren should not haul more than 10 percent to 20 percent of their own body weight.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates more than 3,300 children aged 5 to 14 were treated in emergency rooms last year for injuries related to bookbags.
"It typically puts them off balance and gives them a posture that promotes low back pain," said Wayne Yankus of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on School Health. "A lot of kids don't suffer it immediately, but over the long run they might."
The risk of spinal damage became such a concern two years ago in Bangkok, Thailand, that the education ministry imposed weight limits on bookbags. The ministry found that almost half of primary school pupils were found to be carrying bags weighing more than 6 pounds.
There are no such weight limits at Centennial Place Elementary School in Atlanta, where many of the youngsters rely on wheels to transport all the textbooks and school supplies needed to get through the day.
"I have my notebook and my math book and my spelling list and my pencils and my, and my, um, permission slip and my clothes," says 9-year-old Jasmine Dobbs, rattling off the contents of her red, yellow and blue mini-suitcase that weighs at least 15 pounds.
Many pediatricians say the main problem is not the weight of the bookbags, but how the children carry them.
Some youngsters wear backpacks too low on their backs or sling only one strap across a shoulder. Physicians recommend both straps should be worn so that the backpack is close to the body and its weight is distributed evenly across the back and shoulders.
Reasons for the growing trend of overpacked sacks range from mere fashion to tougher academic regimens. And in some schools, the pupils don't have lockers or don't have time between classes to get to lockers.
In addition to getting a lot of homework, many children head to after-school programs and need their books to study and a pair of extra clothes to play in, said Centennial principal Cynthia Kuhlman.
"The bags are getting bigger everywhere. We just have them on wheels," she said.
Heather Paul, executive director of the National Safe Kids campaign, said many pupils just keeping adding books to the sacks without taking out items they really don't need.
"It would probably also be safe to say the taste and the status that comes with the pack is driving them to carry more of a load," she said. "Small children want to act like big kids, so acting like a big kid means carrying a bigger backpack and more books."