ANGELES CITY – Education Sec. Armin Luistro was reported to have “trivia-lized” the issue, but this city’s Rep. Carmelo Lazatin urged yesterday school officials nationwide to take note of the concern of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and other groups over the ill effects of making school children carry bags more than 15 per cent of their body weight.
Lazatin said that AOTA took the issue more seriously than Luistro in the US and even named every September 19 as National School Backpack Awareness Day with the theme “Pack It Light, Wear It Right!”
He said his bill against heavy school bags, as well as a counterpart bill filed in the Senate, has remained pending, but he appealed to school officials throughout the country to abide by it as the school year opens anew next week.
Lazatin noted that events sponsored by AOTA in the US include “weigh-ins” of backpacks, and “other events to raise awareness of ergonomically-sound ways to carry a school bag”.
The Maryland-based AOTA is a national professional association established in 1917 “to represent the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students and improve the quality of occupational therapy services.”
Lazatin cited recommendations of other health groups that children should not be made to carry bags 10 to 15 percent more than their body weight.
He said his House Bill No. 6644, titled “Act Limiting the Amount of Bags Carried by Children in School and Implementing Measures to Protect School Children’s Health from the Adverse Effects of Heavy School Bags” is slated to be tackled by the appropriate House committee.
In the Senate, Rep. Lito Lapid, who had filed counterpart Senate Bill No. 2179, had expressed dismay when Luistro dismissed the proposal as trivial and better left to the discretion of school principals and parents.
“Permanent solutions are needed in order to forestall the growing incidence of this health problem among school children,” Lapid stressed.
As hundreds of thousands of children go back to school nationwide, Lazatin lamented the failure of many schools to take seriously scientific findings that heavy school bags “could be seriously injurious” to the health of children.
Lazatin said that in 2001, AOTA conducted 7,000 hospital emergency room visits to school children who sustained various injuries related to school backbacks and noted most of the victims were aged five to 14 years old.
He also cited Tim Hutchful, a member of the British Chiropractic Association, who also said that children should carry no more than 10 to 15 per cent of their body weight and that bags “should be carried high up and close to their back.”
The American Physical Therapy Association and the American Pediatric Association, he noted, had also at one time urged students to “make sure the load is appropriate to the body weight. Keep the load at 10-15 percent of the child’s body weight.”
“If it is necessary to carry more books, try carrying them in front in the arms to balance the load on the spine,” the associations also advised.
Lazatin noted recommendations from the two associations for those carrying even lightweight backpacks: “Wear both straps as this distributes the weight load evenly so well aligned posture is encouraged and facilitated. Look for padded straps when shopping for a new backpack.”
A 1988 study conducted by the Hong Kong Society for Child Health and Development showed that 4.54 percent of Grade 3 to Grade 6 students have back problems ranging from mild to serious spinal deformities due to the heavy bags they carry to school daily, he said.
Lazatin also noted a 1994 Scandinavian study showing a high probability for spinal problems in children who carry backpacks.
The study found that 53.7 percent of children who carried their packs on one shoulder complained of back pain. Forty-five percent of two shoulder pack wearers complained of back pain. Interestingly, the highest level of back pain, 68.6 percent, carried the bag in one hand.
The study also concluded that females were more likely to experience backpack-related pains than boys, he said, quoting the study, Lazatin noted.
“Pupils are supposed to listen to their teachers in school, and read their textbooks at home. In the end, having pupils carry heavy load to school will be counterproductive, with many of them physically deformed as adults. Heavy load in school could be one reason why so many now suffer from spinal injuries, including slipped discs,” he said.
He also urged schools to consider investing in lockers where pupils could keep their textbooks and other school needs, instead of bringing them to and from school daily.