After randomly screening almost 6 percent of Utah's sixth-through-ninth-grade students, a Brigham Young University researcher says an alarming number of these children are leaning toward serious back problems because of poor posture habits.

"Our study clearly demonstrates a fairly high rate of incidence of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine," says Rulon S. Francis, a professor of physical education and director of prephysical therapy at the university.The survey, reported in Physical Therapy Journal, noted scoliosis in 7 percent of the student target group, with a girl-boy ratio of 2-1.

Nationally, about 3.5 percent of primary and secondary students are considered to have scoliosis just half the percentage discovered in the BYU-sponsored Utah study.

Additionally, says Francis, 45 percent of the children evaluated were considered to have lordosis, or swayback.

The study, conducted over one school year period by Francis and a BYU professor of statistics, Gale R. Bryce, involved a random sample of students attending grades six through nine selected from school districts around the state.

From a total population of just over 81,000 students in 50 schools, 4,670 students were screened for musculoskeletal deviations, says Francis, who personally conducted the examinations.

Of the total number of students examined, 2,192 were boys and 2,458 were girls.

"The results of our study should be a clarion call to the people of Utah that these problems need to be addressed," he says.

Low back pain, the second most common reason people visit a doctor, has its roots in childhood, Francis notes.

"There is a very definite correlation between swayback and low-back pain that occurs later in life," he says. "These postural problems, scoliosis and lordosis, are serious. They can cause deformities in an individual and diminish life expectancy, not to mention the tremendous psychological trauma and financial burden they bring to a family."

While legislatures in 21 states have voted to include mandatory screening for musculoskeletal deformities in school-age children, Utah is not one of them, Francis says. He plans to propose such a program to the Legislature next session. The proposal should gain wide acceptance, he says, because it will be staffed with volunteers and no state funding will be required.

"Physical education teachers will do the initial screening, and it is proposed that therapists do the secondary screening, which should eliminate a lot of false positive findings," he says.

A primary reason why so many school children suffer from postural problems is their general lack of posture awareness, notes Francis.