Backpacks Too Heavy for Small Kids

ByABC News
January 22, 2002, 1:18 PM

Jan. 23 -- Concerns about children's backpacks are gaining new weight in the wake of the death of a child in Hong Kong, a parents' crusade for school involvement, and the call for a ban by a leading orthopedic researcher.

The issue took a a tragic twist in Hong Kong, where earlier this month a 9-year old boy fell 20 floors to his death after his heavy backpack pulled him over the safety rail of a building. Officials suspect the bag moved forward as the boy leaned to look at something, pushing him over the railing.

And physicians say they are beginning to see some symptoms of back problems stemming from carrying heavy packs.

For example, a study in the January issue of the journal Spine shows that carrying backpacks that weigh an average of 20 pounds is likely to cause back pain in children.

Pain in the Back

Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, director of the pediatric pain program at UCLA, has treated a growing number of children with symptoms such as back, neck, shoulder and head pain caused by carrying heavy backpacks.

"I don't think the backpacks are causing permanent damage, but they place a strain on certain muscles that cause kids to hold their bodies in certain ways and creates muscle and ligament pain," Zeltzer says.

Other experts even speculate that carrying heavy packs may increase a child's risk of developing spinal disorders, though more research is needed.

"This is a very important area to study. These children may be causing some increased risks of arthritis to their backs, but this has not been conclusively proven," says Dr. Jeffrey Wang, chief of the spine service at UCLA.

Dr. Jonathan Schaffer, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, also points out that previous studies have shown that children's hearts and lungs can be affected by the weight of the backpack. His own daughter's backpack weighed in at around 45 pounds recently.

Preventative Programs

More and more parents and medical researchers are now seeking solutions to the problem of young children doing potentially permanent damage to their spines by carrying overloaded backpacks.