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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"Good posture is now being encouraged"
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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 16:57 GMT
Computers 'could disable children'
Schoolboy using computer
Are children running the risk of serious injury?
By BBC correspondent Christine Stewart

Children learning to use computers are being put at risk of permanent injury, some health experts are warning.

They say thousands of children have already been damaged by medical problems associated with the operation of computers.

I think we are on a threshold of what could be a global disaster

Dr Leon Straker
These problems - neck, back and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) - have long been recognised as being linked to prolonged computer use and incorrect posture in adults.

As yet, no significant research into the risks of RSI among children, who spend hours on computers doing homework or playing games, has been carried out in the UK.

But doctors are reporting an increasing number of children complaining of computer-related injuries.

Muscles and bones

Dr Leon Straker, who is researching the problem in Australia, believes the future is bleak for UK children unless more work is carried out to tackle such injuries.

"I think we are on a threshold of what could be a global disaster," he said.

"This is the first generation of children who have used computers from early childhood while their muscles and bones are developing.

"If we don't get knowledge quickly about how to use computers safely, then I think we will see a lot of children disabled from using computers."

Dr Straker's research at Curtin University in Perth involves using electrodes and mirrors wired to a computer to monitor children's movements when they are using a mouse or keyboard.

'Nuisance pain'

One child experiencing the problem is Charlotte Cook, 14, who has been receiving intensive treatment from a chiropractor for four years.

She suffers severe pain in her neck and back, which is always worse after prolonged periods on a computer.

"It's like a muscular pain and a nuisance pain," she said

We need to be setting healthy habits for children in school

Kim Beat, head teacher
"It just won't go away and it doesn't matter how you try to sit or lie you just can't get comfortable."

Her chiropractor Anna Franklin says Charlotte is not alone, and she believes that there is going to be an increase in cases of RSI and posture problems among children.

Some schools are beginning to address the issue. Head teacher Kim Beat realised that the more time she spent on her computer, the more painful her arms became.

She is now inviting RSI specialists into classes at Barham Primary in Wembley, London, to teach pupils how to work safely.

Adjustable furniture

She said: "It's important parents understand the issues about RSI.

"We need to be setting healthy habits for children in school because they're not going to get RSI in the 45 minutes that they use computers in school - it's when they're at home doing school work or playing games that they could develop it."

Advisers who visit the school start by looking at each child's workstation.

Part of the problem in schools is that each class uses the same computer room, with chairs and desks which may not be adjustable for individual children.

There is usually only one size of mouse, which may not be appropriate for different hands.

Experts' warnings are now being taken into account at Barham Primary so that any new furniture and equipment ordered can be adjusted to suit all its children from the ages of five to 11.

Some human rights and employment lawyers specialising in RSI cases in adults now believe that, unless preventative measures are taken nationwide, schools could face legal action from pupils and parents claiming they have not fulfilled their "duty of care" responsibilities.

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See also:

23 Dec 99 | Health
Computer games pose injury risk
15 Sep 00 | Health
RSI 'linked to psychology'
12 Aug 00 | Health
Lefty workers 'at risk of injury'
14 Aug 00 | Health
Workers urged to monitor illness
16 Jul 99 | Health
RSI linked to nerve damage
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