California lightens the load with backpack law

California has passed a bill to limit the weight of backpacks for schoolchildren.

Governor Gray Davis signed the bill, believed to be a first anywhere, that will set a maximum weight for textbooks used by elementary and middle school students.

The bill also requires the state's Board of Education to examine using CD-ROMs and more Internet resources to replace heavy books.

"The mere adoption of maximum weight standards...will not resolve the issues of excessive backpack weight and the long-term health of pupils," said Davis.

"Rapid advances in electronic technology demand that we look beyond...providing a set of textbooks to each student."

Recent studies have shown heavy knapsacks can cause a range of physical problems with children from shoulder pain to permanent back injuries.

Students are reporting problems such as stiff necks and bruising and tingling in the fingers. Twelve and thirteen year olds are most at risk because their spines that are still growing.

"Sometimes I feel like one of those children who had to work in the mines," said Ali Hoffman, a 10-year-old from California.

The Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation says a person should not carry more than 15 per cent of his/her weight.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says nearly 7,000 children are injured every year due to the heavy load of textbooks in their packs.

A British study found 40 to 50 per cent of schoolchildren suffered backaches, primarily because of their heavy backpacks and the way they carried them slung over one shoulder.

Loads have been going up because budget cuts have prevented schools from providing enough lockers or a double set of books for the home and classroom.

Doctors suggest parents buy better packs for their children. Knapsacks with shoulder padding and wide straps help with the load. They should also check what their children are carrying in their packs. Help them load the knapsack properly with heavier items in the middle.