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Leicester 2002 Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Computer injury risk to children
Computer use
Children are heavy users of computers
Children are risking permanent, painful injuries by using computers set up for adults, an ergonomics expert has warned.

Millions of young people use adult equipment everyday at school and at home.


Most parents seem unaware of the possible dangers of children sitting for long periods unsupported, with necks twisted and wrists over extended

Professor Peter Buckle
But computers, keyboards, the mouse, and the furniture rarely take into account the size of children.

Professor Peter Buckle, of the Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surrey, UK, said this was bound to cause problems.

Repetitive strain injury was a particular risk, particularly as children's muscles and bones are still developing.

"Most parents wouldn't, for example, have an eight-year-old using a full size cricket bat or an adult bicycle but seem unaware of the possible dangers of children sitting for long periods unsupported, with necks twisted and wrists over extended."

Speaking at the British Association's science festival in Leicester, Professor Buckle said that many measures had been put into place to minimise the risk of adult workers developing computer-related injuries.

However, he said little attention had been paid to students and schoolchildren who use the same equipment - often for hours at a time.

"Worryingly, evidence is starting to show that, for some health problems, we may be leaving it too late before we start helping."

Professor Buckle unveiled research, involving more than 2,000 youngsters, showing that 36% of 11 to 14-year-olds suffer serious, ongoing back pain.

Long-term problem

He also cited a study that found children who reported low back pain while at school were more likely to suffer from low back pain in adulthood.

"In other words, the workforce of tomorrow is already damaged before starting the rigours of an adult working life.

"The current picture, of children working in systems that appear to affect their current and future health, is a disturbing one."

Professor Buckle said it was important to design more user-friendly equipment for children.

He also called for more ergonomic research into the stresses and strains placed on the bodies of children who regularly use computers.

In addition, the principles of ergonomics which are now widely applied in the workplace should also be used in the classroom to minimise the risk to children.

Professor Buckle also advised parents to monitor their children's computer use at home, making sure that they take regular breaks and sit properly.

BA science festival at Leicester University.

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