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Jacey Merkle weighs just 90 pounds. Add her backpack, and her weight shoots up to 110.

On any given school day, Jacey, a seventh-grader at Southwest Middle School, will lug around 20 pounds of books and school supplies on her back.

And she’s not alone.

The American Chiropractic Association has been sounding the alarm for years over heavy backpacks and the back issues they cause in young students.

In a recent study, researchers found that the average child

carries a backpack “that would be the equivalent of a 39-pound

burden for a 176-pound man, or a 29-pound load for a 132-pound woman.”

In the study, 60 percent of those carrying heavy backpacks had already reported back pain.

A second study done showed that the longer a child wears

an oversized backpack, the longer it takes for a “curvature or

deformity of the spine to correct itself,” according to the ACA.

Rapid City chiropractor James Schwietert said he treats plenty of students who have back and neck pain caused by carrying heavy backpacks.  

“Some of these backpacks weigh half as much as the child,” Schwietert said. “Over the long term, what you’re doing is loading the spine with unnecessary weight at too young of an age.”

An overly heavy backpack will cause a child to bend forward to support the weight on his back, rather than on the shoulders.

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Schwietert said that while children may have only minor back and neck complaints now, they will likely see graver complaints later in life. “They’re going to carry that issue.”

Karin Merkle, Jacey’s mother, said her daughter’s heavy backpack has been an issue in their house,

especially since Jacey walks a mile to and from school each day. 

Merkle tried to find alternatives for her daughter, even buying a rolling suitcase. It didn’t work well, so Jacey went back to her backpack.

Stan Evans, principal at Dakota Middle School, said the heavy backpacks haven’t been a huge issue at his schools, but said, “I know that some students do overload them.”

Evans thinks that while there will always be a place for textbooks in education, teachers will continue to use other resources such as

online curriculum.

That shift should lessen the burden of heavy backpacks.

Schwietert also expects a day when students will carry all of their schoolwork on lightweight electronic devices.

Until that happens, he urges parents to pay attention to the weight in their kids’ backpacks and look for alternatives whenever possible.

He also encourages parents to spend a little more  to get ergonomically correct backpacks that shift the weight lower on the body.

It may be an extra expense now, but it will pay off in the end, he said.

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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