Backpacks becoming a weighty issue

Backpacks becoming a weighty issue

Wynne Zhang, Graphics Edior

Exactly how heavy is too heavy for backpacks and purses?

This is the question The Californian set out to answer after watching students lug massive backpacks to class that make teens look like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Californian staff members visited countless classes and weighed the backpacks and purses of 256 students – about 10 percent of the student body – and discovered the average weights ranged from 7.5 pounds for seniors to 10.2 pounds for freshmen.  Sophomore and junior backpacks averaged 9.1 and 9.6 pounds, respectively.

But of the backpacks and purses weighed, some came in at a whopping 27 pounds, potentially harming students’ posture and growth.

While it may seem routine for some students to lumber down the hallways with 10 to 20 percent of their body wight on their shoulders , overly heavy backpacks can have serious consequences.

“If the backpack is heavy, you will lean forward to try to balance your body,” said Dr. Lotus Gan, an acupuncturist, doctor of oriental medicine (OMD) and co-owner of Gan Jerry Acupuncture Clinic in Danville. “Many kids develop bad posture this way.”

Gan said  heavy backpacks wear down muscles and ligaments in students’ shoulders, necks and spines.

This means  a 25-pound-backpack really takes a toll on students’ health.

“There is a lot of vertebral compression,” Gan said. “It results in a tendency to slouch and have a hunched back.”

An estimated 5,000 children each year are sent to emergency rooms because of backpack-related injuries, according to a recent article in the Contra Costa Times.

A backpack, if worn correctly, at least distributes the weight evenly to two sides of the body.  Many students use purses or sling backpacks over one shoulder, exacerbating the problem for many teens.

“More than 15 pounds is a lot of stress for one half of your body,” said Achilles Walker, Cal High’s sports medicine teacher.

Backpacks have been getting heavier as students have enrolled in more challenging classes with bigger books.

The text books needed for many AP and Honors classes weigh up to a staggering seven pounds (AP Biology). Multiply this by three classes and it’s easy to understand why backpacks are bulging.

“For juniors, a U.S. History  textbook (six pounds) plus an Algebra 2 textbook (4.8 pounds) is already heavy,” said English teacher Gilita Thomas.

But because the school cannot purchase a class set of books for every single class, only a limited number of classes have textbooks available in class.

“Science teachers have books in class so they don’t have to carry them,” said science teacher Steve Armstrong.

Most students agree that it would definitely help lighten the weight on their shoulders if more classes kept a set of textbooks, so they could keep their books at home.

“I wish all of our classes had a class set of textbooks,” said junior Marissa Gallego. “Then my bag wouldn’t be so heavy.”

But even with the thick textbooks and numerous notebooks students may need to bring to  classes, some students are placing additional weight on their shoulders by carrying all of their materials instead of using their lockers.

This is because many students feel it’s too inconvenient to visit lockers before classes because they’re on different floors of the main building or across campus.

“It’s a hassle because you have to walk up all the floors,” said junior Jack Torrez.

Many students said they had their lockers “stolen” in the beginning of the year and never bothered to get another one.

“Someone stole my locker on the first floor,” said sophomore Jonathan Lee, who remains without a locker.

Some students would rather carry what they need straight to class than to make detours to the main building to store or retrieve materials needed for class.

While there are students who don’t use their lockers at all, other students depend solely on their lockers to store the materials they need for class.

“I keep all my stuff in my locker and bring what I need to class,” said senior Kyle Martin, who did not have a backpack with him when interviewed during his second period class.

Gan said that a semester, or two to three months of carrying a backpack that is too heavy will effect students’ backs negatively.

“The weight [of backpacks] may result in serious back problems in the future,” Gan said.