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Schoolwork “Weighing” Students Down

Are you are tired of lugging around a 15 pound backpack to school every day? Join the club of millions of kids and parents who feel the same way. A controversial study over the last decade examined the negative effects of carrying heavy backpacks every single day to school.  Not only does lugging a backpack drain one’s physical energy, but it can also cause stress fractures in one’s back, inflammation of growth cartilage, nerve damage in the neck and shoulders, as well as neck strain.  The backpacks are damaging young children’s growing muscles and bones and leading to permanent orthopedic injuries.

In 1999, a study in Italy revealed that 34% of school children carry 30% of their body weight once a week.  This is more than the proposed healthy amount of weight adults should carry.  Compare this to a 39 pound backpack being worn by a 176 pound man every day!  More recently, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission said that a student lifting a 12 pound backpack 10 times a day for one year of school is basically carrying a weight of 216,000 pounds.

The too- heavy backpacks pull students backwards causing them to lean forward to stay centered.  This causes the discs on the vertebrae to squeeze together and the spine gets crushed.  Worst case, kids develop scoliosis (a curve in the spine) or contractures (lower back pains).  Best case, kids develop bad posture and rounded shoulders.  Neck pains occur when kids bending down have to look up in front of them. By walking around hunched over for long periods of time, students’ balance can be compromised.

Some suggestions for reducing the heavy load are deciding what needs to be taken home at the end of the day.  Although it may take some time to sort out what one needs, it’s worth it in the long run if it improves one’s health.  Only carry the binders that are needed to each class.  A good idea may be to switch books in between classes, so that when walking in the hallways, only the necessary binders are being carried.  Some schools may be financially able to get two sets of textbooks, one for the classroom and one for home.  Find a backpack with two, wide, padded straps that is no bigger than what is needed.  Never carry the backpack on one shoulder because it could lead to scoliosis and an imbalance in the way one walks.

Although we are living in an extremely technological time, there has been no decrease in the amount of paperwork children carry around all day.  President Obama started an initiative of switching all textbooks over to e-textbooks by 2017.  He is encouraging publishers and tablet makers to lesson the cost of electronics so that school children can be supplied with iPads and kindles.  There are many advantages to switching to e-textbooks.  They can be easily updated which will eliminate the cost for schools to update textbooks every five years to stay relevant with information.  Students will be able to communicate with teachers quickly, research more efficiently, check schoolwork often, and watch videos and diagrams that will facilitate learning.  Apple has already created applications for textbooks using iBook.  If technology and electronics can update to provide textbooks and workbooks, the amount of paper and schoolwork students have to carry every day will dramatically decrease and help to rebuild a taller and stronger young generation.

Photos by Rhea Nagpal ’15 and Katrina Garry ’14

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