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Back Talk

The California Assembly wants to commission a study on the health effects on students of carrying overstuffed backpacks, a topic that is attracting growing attention among researchers.

Rod Pacheco

Members of the Assembly, the legislature's lower house, voted 59-1 last month to appropriate $100,000 for a three-year study of the issue to be conducted by the state health department in conjunction with California's superintendent of public instruction.

"A lot of kids are carrying these things, and their little spines are bent over," said Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, a Republican who sponsored the bill. The Senate has not yet taken up the measure.

The issue has gained national attention recently, with the American Physical Therapy Association releasing a report last winter. Researchers examining the problem in Massachusetts found that half of young children there carried backpacks heavier than 15 percent of their body weight, the maximum recommended by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. ("Lugging Heavy Backpacks Hurts Children, Study Says," Feb. 21, 2001.)

The California legislation would require researchers to examine the weight of hardcover textbooks, the lack of locker space in schools, and any relevant research linking heavy backpacks to spinal damage, according to Mr. Pacheco. The report would have to be completed by January 2003.

Mr. Pacheco said he first noticed the problem at home, when his two daughters, ages 8 and 6, began struggling to lift their own backpacks. As a board member of a nonprofit organization that deals with spinal injuries, he became concerned that toting the heavy loads on a regular basis would have lasting adverse effects.

Children have begun to rely more heavily on backpacks, he said, in part because some schools have banned the use of lockers for fear students may hide guns or drugs in them.

—Julie Blair

Vol. 20, Issue 40, Page 17

Published in Print: June 13, 2001, as State Journal

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