Published Online: January 15, 2003
Published in Print: January 15, 2003, as Take Note

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Weighing Risk

Amid continuing concern over the weight of schoolchildren's backpacks, a new study says that a youngster is more likely to be injured by tripping over a backpack or being hit with one than from wearing it.

Researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital found that of backpack-related injuries among 247 children, only 11 percent affected the back.

"We found out that back injuries [from backpacks] are actually rare," said Dr. Eric Wall, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and a researcher for the study. "It seemed like one of the safer things to do was to put it [a backpack] on your back."

The weight and style of backpacks have been in the national spotlight for some time. Some schools have removed lockers because of safety concerns over weapons and drugs, leaving children to carry heavy loads. In California, a law was passed last year to limit the weight of textbooks. Nationally, children also have begun carrying rolling backpacks to take the weight off their backs.

The Cincinnati hospital's study, published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, looked at emergency room visits because of backpack-related injuries that were reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1999 and 2000. Researchers focused on children between ages 6 and 18.

Studying solely emergency room visits does not account for children who are treated for back injuries in doctors' offices or do not seek treatment.

Tripping over a backpack resulted in 28 percent of the injuries for the children studied. Getting hit by a backpack and wearing one each resulted in 13 percent of the injuries.

A large number of the injuries involved a child's head or face, hand and wrist, or elbow. About 22 percent of the injuries occurred on the head or face, 14 percent on the hand, and 13 percent on the wrist or elbow.

Despite the findings, some experts say they are still worried about the effect of a heavy backpack on a child's back. Most experts recommend that a child carry no more than 15 percent to 18 percent of his or her weight.

"My biggest concern is that they are so overloaded," said Patrice Winter, a physical therapist in Fairfax, Va.

Children's backpacks should be proportionate to their bodies, be made of high-quality nylon, and have good shoulder cushioning, she said: "You want to avoid mechanical breakdown of the child."

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 18, Page 3

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