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AZ: Students Promote National Backpack Awareness

October 23, 2008

by Karen Mattox

More than 40 million children in the United States carry school backpacks, and more than half of them may be carrying too much weight. To weigh in on this issue, students in the Occupational Therapy Program at Midwestern University (MWU) are joining forces with Sheely Farms Elementary School in Phoenix and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to host a backpack weigh-in on October 24 to encourage fourth grade students to "lighten up."

This effort is part of National School Backpack Awareness events held nationwide every fall to educate children, parents, teachers, and communities about the serious health problems children may have from backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly. Occupational therapy practitioners advise a backpack strategy of "Pack it Light, Wear it Right."

"Every year, we're seeing more children with stooped shoulders, sore necks, and aching backs from carrying school backpacks, and we can't afford to put our children at risk for a lifetime of problems," says AOTA Executive Director Frederick P. Somers. "AOTA is committed to moving this public health issue forward today. Our children's future well-being is in jeopardy."

Children carrying overloaded backpacks and improperly worn packs, according to U.S. and international studies, are likely to experience neck, shoulder, and back pain; adverse effects on posture and the developing spine; and compromised breathing and fatigue. The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission estimates that more than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 resulted from injuries related to backpacks and book bags. Half of those injuries occurred among children between the ages of five and 14, during the elementary and middle-school years. The growing awareness of potential long-term problems to children has resulted in increased medical research and proposed legislation in at least two states to address this issue.

The AOTA is urging parents, students and occupational therapy practitioners to help reduce the risks from improper use of school backpacks. Strategies for loading and wearing backpacks include:
• Backpacks should weigh no more than 15% of body weight (15-pound pack on a 100-pound child);
• Load heaviest items closest to the child's back;
• Wear both shoulder straps for an evenly balanced load;
• Adjust shoulder and waist straps to distribute the burden more evenly along the child's back;
• Suggest that teachers consider the total weight of each day's assigned class work not only in content, but also in terms of textbook weight.

For more information, contact Sheri Raven, MWU OT student at 503/453-4117.

More Information

For more information, please contact:
Karen Mattox