April 26, 2007 / 10:10 PM / 11 years ago

Children warned about poor posture, heavy backpacks

TORONTO, April 26 (Reuters Life!) - Slouching in front of computers and carrying heavy backpacks are causing back and shoulder problems in children, according to medical experts.

A girl tries to lift a backpack weighing about 20kg (40lb) in Tokyo in this January 26, 2007 file photo. Slouching in front of computers and carrying heavy backpacks are causing back and shoulder problems in children, according to medical experts. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Pat McKee, who teaches occupational therapy at the University of Toronto, said children tend to carry backpacks weighing more than the recommended 10-15 percent of their body weight.

“If you add stress from prolonged poor computer posture and then add stress from heavy backpacks, then there will be cumulative stresses,” she said in an interview.

McKee, who teaches classes in the hazards linked to computers and backpacks, said children also suffered from being forced to sit in an adult-sized world.

Bill Case, a physical therapist in Houston, Texas, has seen children suffering from orthopedic neck, back and shoulder problems in the past five years that he had previously not come across in 25 years of practice.

“The addition of the computer and the backpack has been throwing people into an abnormal position and there are problems arising from that,” Case explained.

He urged computer users to sit upright with their heads held back to ease shoulder problems.

Children are particularly prone to compounded stresses, according to Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University in New York.

“They are less strong than adults, their body is still growing and they probably spend more time with a backpack,” he said in an email interview.

Jane Sadler, a physician at Baylor Medical Center in Garland, Texas, said children’s growth plates could be affected by undue stress. This would not stunt growth but may cause the early onset of arthritis in later life.

The experts recommended investing in relatively light backpacks, which place the weight on the shoulders, and with adjustable straps to prevent heavy loads from moving or being slung lower down the back.

“We need to protect children, give them the best products that prevent injury, and teach them how to use them correctly so they will learn beneficial habits that will give them life-long protection against injury,” Hedge said.

“Otherwise we may be unwittingly scarring a generation.”

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