Overloaded backpacks may be
dangerous to childrenís health
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
Have you ever noticed your child or
someone elseís child with that peculiar turtle look? Their shoulders are rounded
as they lean forward trying to compensate for the huge backpack that droops down
below their waist. Itís filled with heavy textbooks for every subject they take,
which can be as many as six, plus a three-ring binder and sundry other items.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission, the use of book bags or backpacks by school children resulted
in over 6,500 injuries in 2000 alone.
Wood River Middle School Principal John
Cvetich said he looked at a sixth-grader who was loaded down by his pack
recently and asked him, "Are you in training to be a Sherpa?"
The lockers at the middle school are
roomy, and because each gradeís classes are in the same hall as their lockers,
there is time to stow books and pick them up when needed. But that doesnít mean
the lockers arenít full of other things, such as clothes, instruments, sports
equipment, change of shoes, coats and lunches. They also still have to take the
books home somehow on a daily basis for homework.
"Weíre really working as much as we can on
personal organization, but textbooks are bigger," Cvetich said. He added that
they use some textbooks less because in many classes there is
Also, the middle school now prohibits use
of backpacks and other satchels.
"Last year we banned the duffels, or
suitcases or sea bags, or hope chests or whatever in the classrooms," Cvetich
said. "It got to be such a mess in the halls and was a fire hazard. Students
canít carry backpacks, thereís enough time to go to their locker."
Not so, according to many students, in the
Wood River High School, where halls are crowded in between classes and lockers
arenít necessarily convenient. Construction of the new school, however, should
help the crowding issue.
While students complain of trying to get
to their lockers, use the facilities and maneuver through crowd halls WRHS
Principal Graham Hume said, "They have time if they do it before classes, and
pick up books at lunch for afternoon classes."
According to Hume, it would be better to
split the load during the day rather than keeping the books together.
This makes sense if the student is highly
organized. But it still doesnít erase the problem of the student turtles all
meandering their way to and from school carrying what often is 20 to 30 pounds
At least Cvetich and Hume both recognize
that the studentsí structural health is a concern, especially in younger and
smaller kids who are not fully-grown.
"In terms of the textbooks and how many
they have, Iím not sure what the solution is," Hume said.
But the problem is not unique to Blaine
County. Back pain complaints prompted a California law to take effect in 2004
that would limit textbook weight. Also, similar bills have been introduced in
New Jersey and Massachusetts.
However, some school districts in
California have taken things into their own hands already. One solution could be
making assignments through the Internet, or e-books or CD-ROMs could be made
available. Still, until e-books reach a critical mass, this is a difficult
proposition for low-income families. Another idea is to issue a second set of
textbooks to keep at home.
"There is no magic low cost solution,"
said Stephen Driesler, executive director of the American Association of
Publishersí School Division. Durability is a major part of the manufacturing
standards of textbooks, he added. Textbooks are usually replaced every six to
He said having a second set of textbooks
actually is more cost effective since the replacement of lost or destroyed books
is more expensive in the long run.
As to the suggestion of health risks he
said, "Some orthopedic surgeons would suggest 15 percent of body weight is the
maximum that should be carried in a pack. But there might be a 200-lb. line
backer and a 100-lb. cheerleader in the same class. There are so many variables.
One size, in this instance, truly does not fit all."
Dr. Scott Bautch, past president of the
American Chiropractic Association Council on Occupational Health, said, "In my
own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children
who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain. The first question I ask
these patients is, 'Do you carry a backpack to school?' Almost always, the
answer is 'Yes.'"
Tom West, of Ketchum Chiropractic, said
itís very common that kids come to him complaining of pain due to carrying heavy
Another chiropractor in Ketchum, Joel
Jarolimek, said he also is seeing a number of kids with neck and back problems.
"They tell me they donít have time between classes to get to their lockers. We
try to advise them. Better backpacks are coming out."
The ACA recommends making sure packs are
not oversized since the more room there is, the more students are apt to put in.
Weight should be anchored at the waist and should not drop more than four inches
below the waist. Straps should be padded so they donít dig in at the shoulders,
and parents should monitor the need for the books nightly.
Because of the tendency to bring books
home every night, some parents pick their children up at school rather than have
them walk home hunched under the weight of a nightís dose of homework.
This may help the kids, but it doesnít
help traffic, or ease up on unnecessary car trips.
Another issue parents contend with is the
cost of replacing ripped backpacks several times over the course of the school
year. Most are simply not made for this kind of weight.
The Blaine County School Board has
discussed options to help the situation. In fact, in designing the new high
school it tried to provide ample locker space for each student, Superintendent
Jim Lewis said.
"The new school is built in a circle.
Classes are convenient, and they should easily have access to lockers. It was
designed for natural light and efficiency."