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[Originally posted Sept. 17, 2004]

The other day as my 12 year old daughter Julie prepared to head out for her first day of classes (she had previously attended just a few classes – now she goes to a more extensive homeschool co-op three days a week), I casually hoisted her backpack and almost threw out my back! Turns out it weighs 23 pounds!

That got me to thinking: “How have we developed into a nation of pack mules?” and “What will be the impact on these young bodies?”

Back in my days of public school everyone just carried their books loosely in their arms … the key was efficient stacking so that you wouldn’t drop anything. Some students evolved into the use of the strap that probably was the precursor to the bungee cord. Even at college, students more typically had briefcases or satchels that would never be cool by today’s standards. In fact my wife was a pioneer in this emerging backpack academic market as she dashed around campus on her old bike.

Once relegated to serious hikers in the great outdoors along the Appalachian Trail, backpacks have now become an essential school accessory. Parents strap them on their little preschool innocents and turn them into a beast of burden from day one. I always thought that the purpose of education was to exercise the mind… but apparently we are engaging a wide range of muscles.

Now backpacks have become a fashion statement. We are way beyond the utilitarian stage. You can’t take just any old backpack to school. (Just like back in the good old days when some lunch boxes were cool and others were just serviceable.) I can envision kids stockpiling backpacks like some women do shoes. Kids already have their soccer bag (which is just a specialty backpack). Soon they will want to be color coordinated with their different outfits. Of course there are the various offshoots and derivatives – the waist pack, the infant carrier… Regardless, let’s hope we’re not overdoing things … maybe a trip to the chiropractor now and then would be a wise move for our teenagers. It’s a lot easier to take a preventative approach then try to correct damage.

Which makes me wonder: If girls can get a hernia… shouldn’t guys get a hisnia?? (My kids tell me it’s material like that which will keep me at my day job.)

Look at these facts: National Public Radio reported that 65 percent of adolescents’ visits to doctors are for backpack-related injuries. Up to 60 percent of children will experience back pain by the time they are 18 years old.

How about an analysis of the proportion of injuries sustained in various fashions.

Kevin Fagan, the cartoonist, sums up his solution quite nicely.