After a child fills the backpack with the math book, history book, notepads, snacks, lunch, calculator and pens, a 25-pound load is not uncommon and not healthy for the back, especially if the pack is slung over one shoulder. Jake Arsenault, a fourth-grader at Silverbrooke Elementary School, has heard it all from his gym teacher.
"It's not good if you have all the weight on one arm. When I bring home my math book, it's this thick," he said, indicating a 2-inch thickness with his fingers.
Although the math book Jake spoke of was from last year, mother Lisa Arsenault knows the homework load increases as the years wear on.
"He's only going into fourth grade so he doesn't have too much," she said.
Zonia Leon has an 11-year-old brother who loads down his backpack, also.
"When it's getting too heavy, he carries the extra," she said.
Pete the Posture Parrot was on hand at the Springfield Zany Brainy for Dr. Vincent DePeri's presentation on backpack safety. DePeri is a chiropractor with an office in Annandale.
"Take care of your spine, and you'll feel fine," was Pete's line.
"It's a new epidemic that's starting," DePeri said, of the backpack craze.
The one-arm shoulder sling seemed to be the main culprit, though. Pete had a saying for that, too.
"Both straps on your shoulders will make it so easy. If you don't overload, it's even quite breezy," Pete's book stated.
DePeri had a spine model and diagrams to show the danger associated with backpacks. According to information released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 6,512 people were treated for backpack injuries last year. DePeri was at Zany Brainy to promote the Airpack, a backpack with air pockets in the shoulder straps and lumbar support. According to the promotional material, the Airpack transfers the weight to the inflatable shoulder strap and the lumbar support. The Airpack models date back to 1997.
"It's a pretty awesome backpack," he said.
The Airpack doesn't do much for the one-armed, stylish pose, though, DePeri said.
"Airpack is not going to combat this," he said, slinging an empty Airpack over one shoulder.
BURKE RESIDENT Deborah Galarza has a 13-year-old daughter, Alex, who is a freshman at Robinson Secondary School. The correct backpack method using both straps sounds good, but Galarza knows reality.
"She's going to carry it the way she's going to carry it. She'll do what is cool and take the backpack that is cool," she said.
The Airpacks are stylish but have no designs or logos.
DePeri's assistant Kaylene Millikin admitted the look dominated the backpack scene.
"The cool thing is to wear it on one shoulder," she said.
At $39.99, the AirPack isn't on the low end of backpack prices. At Zany Brainy, there were several other types of backpacks available, and the prices varied. There was a $10 "You Go Girl" backpack, which had canvas straps and no support; a $19.99 "Dora" backpack with padded straps; and the $29.99 CalPak, which had a handle and wheels, similar to something you'd see at the airport. The wheels were not something Millikin would have categorized as "cool."
WEST SPRINGFIELD High School seniors Rachel Persica and Sara Calloway sported smaller backpacks with thin straps.
"They're like purses, almost," Persica said.
Calloway heard the horror stories with backpacks and the spine.
"There was a girl in my elementary school whose spine was crooked because she wore it on one shoulder," she said.
Once school starts, they'll both get out their big backpacks for school, which they keep everything in, instead of carrying purses.
"I don't want to carry a backpack and a purse," said Persica.
Lane Elementary School second-grader Taylor Murray used to do the one-shoulder method, too, but recently got a book bag as well. Slinging it over one shoulder was status quo.
"It feels more comfortable," she said.
Her mother, Roxanne, realized the dangers of a heavy bag on one shoulder. Her father is a chiropractor in Michigan, but she hasn't really gotten any advice from him on the matter.
"We got her a bag that she wears across the shoulder," across the chest instead of dangling, she said. "It does distribute the weight."