WMU News

Fifty OT students visit local schools for backpack awareness

Sept. 24, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- In response to the growing concern about back problems caused by overstuffed backpacks, the Western Michigan University Occupational Therapy Department is weighing in on the issue along with the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Kalamazoo community.

A backpack awareness day on Wednesday, Sept. 25, will educate children, parents, school administrators, teachers and the community at large about the serious health effects on children from backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly. Activities are part of National School Backpack Awareness Day events being held across the country.

Fifty WMU occupational therapy students under the direction of Dr. Debra Lindstrom Hazel, assistant professor of occupational therapy, will participate in educational events starting at 8:15 a.m. at three local schools: MLK-Westwood School, 1100 Nichols Road; St. Augustine Elementary School, 600 W. Michigan Ave.; and Central Elementary, 516 N. Orient Ave., Parchment.

More than 40 million U.S. children carry school backpacks and more than half may be carrying too much weight, making them susceptible to neck, shoulder and back pain, as well as adverse effects on posture and the developing spine. The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission estimates more than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 resulted from injuries related to backpacks and book bags with half of those cases affecting children ages 5 to 14.

Experts say backpacks should weigh no more than 15 percent of body weight and heaviest items should be loaded closest to the child's back. Children should wear both shoulder straps, while teachers are encouraged to consider the total weight of each day's assigned class work.

Wednesday's activities run from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m. and include a "weigh-in" to encourage 4th-, 5th- and 6th-grade students to "lighten up." Occupational therapists will weigh backpack-wearing students at all three schools and talk to them, their parents and their teachers about backpack safety.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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