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Study Implicates Excess Fat in Children with Back Pain


In a recent study looking at the relationship between low back pain and the carrying of heavy backpacks in children it was found that a causal connection could not be established while it appeared that excess body fat and inactivity played a more significant role.

The rising concern of parents in recent times over their children’s physical complaints resulting from overloaded backpacks has prompted health care officials and educators to address the problem as a potential spinal health hazard.

Dr. Andrew Haig, medical director of the Spine Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor conducted the study with 184 children ages 7 to 15. In the results reported before the World Congress of the International Society for Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, he concluded that no scientific evidence could be found to support the idea that backpacks were a contributing factor to children’s low back pain.

While children have been encouraged to wear backpacks on both shoulders to help center the weight it was found that the slinging of backpacks on one shoulder did not cause back discomfort in most of the children studied. Dr. Haig stated that “The spine may be able to handle heavy loads at short intervals” and that most children probably did not wear the backpacks long enough to significantly damage the spine.

The researchers discovered that those children most inclined to complain of back pain from carrying backpacks tend to be the most inactive. In those reporting the most back pain obesity appeared to be a key factor. The study implies that spinal instability resulting from lack of exercise and obesity may be a predisposing factor in the development of low back pain and injury in children who carry backpacks.

1) “Study Blames Pain on Fat, Not Backpacks.” San Francisco Chronicle 26 May 2003

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