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Heavy School Bags Linked to Back Problems: Three Students Lobbying for Relief

April 9, 2007

By “Jennifer Anderson”

Most children are required to tote heavy school bags to and from school each day, and the load increases as they reach higher grades. Sports clothing and equipment often adds another bag to their load. One recent study found that the daily burden can lead to lower back pain, poor posture, spinal deformity over time and back problems in adulthood. This weighty problem isn’t unique to South Africa, and in Scotland, three students are fighting for relief.

An investigation by the department of occupational therapy at the University of the Free State compared postural deviation in children who carry heavy school bags against those who don’t. The study was reported in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. The children in the study (380 in total) spent an average of 30 minutes per day carrying their bags. On average a pre-teen school bag weighed 13.1 pounds and a teenager’s bag weighed 14.3 pounds.

The study indicated deviation to the side and/or backwards of children’s spines when carrying heavy school bags. Over time the deviation becomes evident even when the child is not carrying the bag, according to the researchers. The teenage schoolchildren had a higher level of spinal deviation than the pre-teen children, indicating that the deviations are lasting. A child’s spine is still developing during the school years, and carrying the occasional heavy object will not result in any permanent damage. The researchers point out that children carry their school bags on a daily basis and often between classes as well, and it is the constant additional pressure to the spine that can cause long-term damage. They say the further a child has to walk to school, the more affected he or she is.

The Scotsman newspaper reported on three pupils in the Scottish school system who have decided to fight their burden. Seventeen-year-old Colin totes 40 pounds – about a third of his own bodyweight – to school each day. Sixteen-year-old Mahreen I has to go to a chiropractor every six months, suffering back pain after five years of lugging around heavy schoolbags. School captain Jonathan Cunningham, also 17, has to carry around piles of notes as well as books for up to seven lessons a day.

These students at Rosshall Academy in Glasgow are lobbying the Scottish Parliament to make sure every new school is built with enough space for lockers to enable children to keep more of the burden at school. The three teens have also taken their case, which is supported by their teachers and the British Chiropractic Association, to the education committee to call for action.

In the case of the Rosshall Students, an ergonomic way to reduce the risk of bad backs includes providing adequate storage at schools so heavier books and gear doesn’t have to be carried back and forth. There are other ways. The Scotsman article, Tim Hutchful, of the British Chiropractic Association, advises parents to reduce the risk by giving their child a rucksack, ensuring it is carried on both shoulders and checking the contents to make sure only essential items are carried. The South African experts advocate awareness. They advise parents and teachers to note the loads they are expecting children to carry, and the influence it can have on their spines.

Sources: Mail & Guardian; The Scotsman


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