Starting with the Chairman's last point, I agree wholeheartedly about raising awareness among children, in particular, who are very receptive to advice that they are given, especially in primary school. I would advocate a structured awareness raising and education campaign. This is not just about teaching them how to lift and so on but about the risk assessment, that is, all the different factors that contribute to it. Give them the knowledge and let them, their parents and their teachers decide. We need a lot of different people involved in the process and I agree wholeheartedly that publishers should be involved. We would suggest that a bag should fit the child. In other words, it needs to be the size of the child's back. It does not need to be down sort of at their bottom because that interferes with how they walk. Anthropometric measurements will tell us, for instance, how long children's backs are generally and a junior infants book should not be much bigger because it will not fit in a schoolbag that would be suitable for a junior infants child. There is a lot of scope. There are a wide range of stakeholders, including the children, their parents, teachers, various boards, representative councils, student councils, health professionals, schoolbag designers, manufacturers, retailers and publishers. They all need to be included in the discussion to break down the problem into manageable processes.
We need to have a proactive approach. Being heavy handed is not the way to go. People respond better to proactive health promotion. They respond better when they understand what they are being asked to do and the reasons behind it. I do not think that introducing legislation to say that something should or should not be done is the way to go.
Coming back to the point about weight limits, there is research that states that schoolbag limits should not be any more than 10% of the child's body weight, but the same amount of alternative research states that that is not the case. It is a difficult one to call, which is why most of the recent research, including our own, emphasises that we should not hang our hats on the schoolbag weight limit, but rather we should consider it in the context of all manner of other issues. As I stated, I am not suggesting for a minute that we should expect children to carry excessively heavy loads, but carrying a weight on one's back is not necessarily a problem. That has been identified in a lot of research. It changes our posture and we say that children are bent forwards when they carry, but that is fine. We all bend forwards when we sit, but we do not stop children from sitting. They carry a bag for ten minutes or so every day but they sit for hours every day, yet we do not say that they should not sit for long periods. However, that is another story. They should not sit for long periods.
On duration of carriage, I was asked about the length of time children carried their bags and I said it was less than ten minutes. In fact, we know that the children did not carry their bags for very long periods of time because during our study we collected objective data and our survey was researcher assisted. The questions were asked by the researcher one on one with the children, so when they said how long it took them to walk, we quizzed them on where they lived and how far away that was. We therefore got them to give us the most accurate answer they could give.
It is interesting that people say they will not allow their children to walk to school. Many parents state they must drive their children to school because the schoolbag is too heavy, but we found that the weight of the schoolbags of children who travelled by car were not significantly different from the weight of the schoolbags of the children who walked to school. It is interesting when viewed from that perspective.
Summing up, the idea of a parents' and children's charter, where we raise the issue in a strong way, is a great one. There is definitely scope for us to plan perhaps further research into what can be done, but awareness campaigns to date have been minimal. It was mentioned that flyers have been sent around and so forth, but we need to take it further. We need more research and we need to involve the children, the teachers and the parents in the research. If we get them involved in that way, it will become a much more live issue for them. It will also allow them the opportunity to reflect on what can be done and perhaps not look just at the one issue of the schoolbag weight but to look at it in the context of all the other factors.