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Doctors and schools come together to ease backpack burden on tots

Thiruvananthapuram, July 13: This should cheer up every child. Twenty-six schools in Ernakulam have decided to limit the weight of school bags to less than 1 kg at the kindergarten level.

The decision was taken at a meeting organised by the Indian Association of Paediatricians (IAP) at Kochi.

The IAP motto is to promote child-friendly schools and the kindergarten decision is the first step, Sachithananda Kamath, an IAP national executive member, said.

Most pupils carry much more than the optimum weight. Ideally, the bag should not exceed 15 per cent of the body weight of the pupil. But with schools piling pressure, the weight of a school bag is several times the recommended load.

A fifth standard student should be carrying roughly 5 kg school bags. The pity is neither teachers nor parents link complaints of children’s ailments to school bags, said Kamath.

The Holy Grace School (CBSE) in Mala, Thrissur, first set the trend by banishing the bag. Instead, the school supplied them shining plastic files with several folders.

Students carry A4 size papers in the files. The timetable has been drawn up so that the students do not have to carry more than two textbooks at a time.

Students take notes on A4 size sheets given by the school and file notes at home.

Says principal Thinaka Rajan: “Initially we were sceptical about the decision. But students love it. It gives students a first hand experience in filing. The files to be kept at home are provided by the school. Notes for each chapter begin with printed synopsis. And now there is no going back”.

Heavy school bags distort the natural curves in the middle and lower backs, causing muscle strain and irritation to spine joints and the rib cage. It causes rounding of shoulders, alters the mobility of spinal bones and can lead to restricted movement. It also alters the fluid content of the inter-vertebral discs, which could lead to slipped disc and osteoarthritis.

A recent survey of 237 Italian children with an average age of 11.7 years revealed that 94.5 percent of them carried a backpack to school. The average load was 22 per cent of the child’s individual body weight, and one-third carried loads of more than 30 per cent of their body weight at least once a week.

About 80 per cent of the kids felt their backpack was heavy “sometimes”, 65.7 per cent said the backpack made them tired, and 46.1 per cent felt it caused back pain.

Kamath has advised that a doctor should be consulted if a child’s back pain lasts more than a few days and/or is associated with fever or weight loss; if the child has trouble walking; if he suffers pain radiating down one or both legs; if there is bowel or bladder dysfunction; or if the pain interferes with sleep.

Scientific research reveals that there have been an increasing number of reports of childhood back pain in recent decades.

Close to 60 per cent children who carry heavy bags experience suffer low-back pain at least once, Abraham Paul, an activist said.

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