California Mandates Lighter Textbooks
A hefty challenge to create lighter textbooks is on deck for publishers next year. A law recently passed in the trend-setting state of California calls for maximum weight limits on all elementary and secondary school textbooks. The deadline for these limits to be set: July 1, 2004.
The law was drafted in response to parents who were "incensed over the heavy backpacks their children have been forced to carry to school each day," says Elise Thurau, a senior consultant to Democratic California Senator Jackie Speier, and a principal co-author of the legislation.
The legislation was supported by chiropractors, pediatricians, and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These experts testified that increasing numbers of emergency room visits by children complaining of back pain are related to heavy books in backpacks.
According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 1999, "more than 3,400 pupils between five and 14 years of age, inclusive, sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks or book bags."
Another study, conducted in 2000 by the Akron General Medical Center, Akron, Ohio, found 100 of 400 fourth and fifth graders carrying backpacks weighing over 20% of their body weight. "The equivalent would be a 180-pound man carrying nearly 40 pounds on his back, several times a day, five days a week," Thurau says.
California is the largest buyer of textbooks in the U.S., but it is not alone in its effort to limit textbook weights. Similar bills are pending in other states, including Massachusetts and Illinois. New Jersey is also exploring ways to lighten their students' load.
While textbooks aren't the only things kids carry to and from school, they're perhaps the only items lawmakers can target for weight reduction, besides the actual backpacks themselves.
"The problem of overweight backpacks is the result of a child carrying most, if not all, of their textbooks, as well as a multitude of other items, ranging from extra clothing, makeup, lunch, and CD players in their backpacks, all at the same time," says Stephen Driesler, executive director of Association of American Publishers school division, in Washington, D.C.