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Opinion: How is your Backpack Affecting Your Health?

You’ve probably seen images of stereotypical nerds, hunched over with overstuffed backpacks or holding tall stacks of books. But for many at Mira Loma, this is an unfortunate reality. Students, especially those in academically rigorous programs, are being given increasingly heavy loads to carry. Handling too much weight on your back can lead to serious and severe health consequences, many of which are already being felt by students around campus. 

The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends that students should limit the weight of their backpacks to no more than 10 percent of their body weight. For example, if a student weighs 130 pounds, their backpack should weigh no more than 13 pounds. 

Keeping the weight of a backpack this low is easier said than done though. Each class has its own requirements, and the pounds add up fast. Average textbooks can weigh up to 6 pounds, and on especially hard days, students can end up carrying two or three. Aside from textbooks, teachers typically also ask for students to bring a class notebook. And if that wasn’t enough, adding handouts, loose-leaf papers, stationery, and other essentials, the weight of your backpack has likely far surpassed the 10 percent limit.

In another study, conducted by the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that when students lean forward (about 20 degrees) while wearing a backpack, the force exerted on the spine is 11.6 times greater than the weight of the backpack itself. And even when the backpack is worn normally, without leaning forward, the force exerted is still 7.2 times greater. To put it simply, no matter how you wear it, the added weight can drastically increase the stress on your back. 

But wearing a heavy bag can lead to more than just back stress. If you frequently carry a backpack, you might have experienced numbness or tingling in your hands. According to scientists at Tel Aviv University, bulky backpacks can cause microstructural damage to nerves in the shoulder muscles. The nerves in the shoulders and neck travel down to your arms and are even responsible for the movement of your fingers. So damaging those nerves eventually results in reduced functionality of the arms and hands, which could greatly impede your regular way of life. 

When we asked classmates about their experiences with heavy backpacks, the responses matched up with the statistics. In a sample poll of six students, we asked them to rate their back pain on a scale of one to ten, and four responded with a four or above. One student even remarked that she finds it harder to breathe while wearing her backpack.

Of course, there are a few simple fixes that can help ease the pain. For example, distributing the weight more evenly, moving heavy items closer to your back and lighter ones to the front, can help alleviate stress. You can also empty and save loose handouts at home once you’ve completed a unit, and leave behind books you don’t plan on using. Switching to a roller backpack is another potential solution, but their design also comes with many flaws.

These ideas can work for a time, but to tackle the root cause, we would have to change the entire format through which we learn. If we transitioned to digital textbooks, laptops, and other online tools, we would no longer need to carry around so much weight, and it would ease the stress that heavy backpacks cause. An increased amount of essential materials can be compacted into one lightweight device. The dispute of the transition lies in the issue that switching to technology is not an option that works for everyone; Not everyone can learn at the same level using digital tools. The change would fundamentally impact how education is done, to the point where it may be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Providing the best possible learning environment is a school’s purpose, second only to the actual learning. But when a learning environment causes physical harm, it violates the student’s right to a safe and meaningful education. How many burdens do we bear under the pretense of pursuing knowledge? This is a question that weighs on our minds today.

Sources Referenced:  

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130221141604.htm

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30204924/

https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/ForTheMedia/PressReleases/2018/091318-How-Heavy-Backpack.aspx#:~:text=The%20American%20Occupational%20Therapy%20Association,way%20to%20lessen%20the%20load.

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