Concerned that increasingly heavy school backpacks may be putting schoolchildren at risk of long-term health problems, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is sponsoring National School Backpack Awareness Day on Wednesday, September 25, 2002, to promote healthy backpack use among students.
The issue of kids’ backpacks got attention earlier this summer when California Assemblyman Rod Pacheco introduced a bill that would require textbook printers to decrease the weight of their books. Similarly, New Jersey, Assemblyman Peter Barnes made a proposal that would direct the state Board of Education to set and enforce weight standards for elementary and secondary textbooks.
As part of National School Backpack Awareness Day, occupational therapists across the country will hold “weigh-ins” of backpack-wearing students. Weigh-ins will take place at more than 50 schools in 25 states from Massachusetts to California.
AOTA says the goal is to reduce the load being carried by students to 15 percent or less of a child’s weight and to educate them on the risks of carrying too much weight and the proper ways to pack and wear their backpacks.
The strategies represent a rare attempt to help schools improve an entire range of ergonomic problems by highlighting the specific areas that require attention and providing specific corrective actions. Working in partnership with parents, schools can do things like easing the load of heavy backpacks and creating classroom environments that don’t cause back pain, shoulder strain, muscolskeletal pain and aching heads.
“Backpacks that weigh nearly as much as the children carrying them and classrooms that don’t fit the students using them are causing an epidemic of chronic pain in the shoulders and back of America’s children,” said Professor Karen Jacobs, one of America’s leading authorities on school ergonomics and a former president of AOTA.
“The daily discomforts of working in ill-conceived and poorly designed classrooms can put children at risk for a lifetime of health problems,” Jacobs added. “And that’s a shame, because if we pay attention now and take a few, small steps the results can make a big difference.”