Originally Printed in: I.C.P.A. Newsletter November/December 1999
By: Jeanne Ohm, D.C., F.I.C.P.A.
As academic requirements are raised up, so are the amounts of books students
are carrying to and from school. Parents, school officials and health
care providers have growing concerns with the increased amount of weight
being carried each day. According to a recent news article, the issue
has taken on serious implications and pediatricians have said that school
children should not carry more than 10 % of their own body weight. Dr.
Wayne Yankus, of the American Academy of Pediatrics says, "There
is a growing concern that youngsters may have long term back problems
from trudging about with such heavy loads. It typically puts them off
balance and gives them a posture that promotes low back pain. A lot of
kids don't suffer it immediately, but over the long run they might."
David Pascoe, a professor and exercise physiologist at Auburn University
researched the effects of backpacks on children between the ages of 11
and 13. Two-thirds of the children reported having muscle soreness. He
discovered significant differences between the alignment of the spine
in children who used both straps and those who carried the bags on one
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated more than 3,300 children
ages 5-14 had been treated in emergency rooms last year for injuries related
to book bags. Visiting our local high school, the school nurse confirmed
in that particular week alone, two students had visited her office for
injuries related to backpacks. One student was complaining about lower
back pain, the other had a swollen scaleneus anticus muscle on the side
carrying the pack.
With permission from the principle, we went to the high school and randomly
weighed students and their packs. We recorded gender, age, and whether
or not they carried the packs on one or both shoulders. The ages of the
students ranged from 14-17. Our first finding was that female cooperation
was less than the males, as they did not want their weight revealed. The
males, on the other hand did all they could to press harder onto the scale
to increases their weight. Statistically, the female pack weight per body
weight was significantly higher than the males, averaging at 16% compared
with the male 13 %. This is because the females' packs weighed more than
the males' packs (showing a higher level of homework compliance) and the
females have a generally smaller body weight than the males . This also
gave me the incentive to set up a similar survey in the middle school
where the students have a more equalized interest in scholastics and the
males' bodies are closer in size to the females.
The majority of the students suggested I come back at the beginning of
the week stating that their packs were significantly heavier at the beginning
of the week. Almost every student asked if this study would lead to less
homework. Many also expressed their parents' concern for the heavy loads
and it was apparent that follow-up in the schools with biomechanical safety
tips is both necessary and appropriate for students. As chiropractors,
we have the knowledge and ability to provide applicable information and
solutions for these kids. My suggestion is for us to take the lead on
this issue and make a significant difference in the spinal health of the
children in your communities.
Jeanne Ohm, DC, FICPA is in private practice
in Media, PA and is Secretary of the ICPA, Inc. Board of Directors. Dr.
Ohm is a member of the I.C.P.A.'s Distinguished Speakers Bureau and is
available for speaking engagements through the ICPA.