Study Emphasizes Need for Proper Computer Posture

The group conducted preliminary human factors/ergonomics research to determine the scope of their community’s improper posture problem by evaluating local employees and students.

Four students from Carmel Valley Middle School in San Diego entered the Christopher Columbus Awards Competition, a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program that challenges middle school students to identify a community problem and solve it using science and technology.

After experiencing firsthand the discomfort that computer use can cause, Sean Colford, Ethan Epstein, Brandon Loye, and Michael Walsh, decided to study improper posture at computer workstations and the consequent musculoskeletal problems among children and adults in classrooms and offices.

“We noticed that at school, all the computer workstations were the same size, but Ethan and I had a 15-inch difference in height,” Loye said. “I had to hunch my back to see the monitor, and Ethan had to sit on his legs. This caused us discomfort, and we thought we could do something about it.”

The group conducted preliminary human factors/ergonomics research to determine the scope of their community’s improper posture problem by evaluating local employees and students. “We found this problem to be ever present in our schools, the workplace, and even our homes,” Ethan said. They found that 80 percent of office workers and 75 percent of students sat at their computer workstations with incorrect posture. Based on these findings, they developed and tested their invention, the “Posture Pad,” an ergonomically designed seat pad that vibrates or emits a tone when the user sits incorrectly.

The group won first place in the national competition and are presenting their study at the upcoming Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 55th Annual Meeting at the Red Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. Additionally, the group received a $25,000 grant to turn their idea into reality. Working in collaboration with students at the University of California, San Diego, the team further developed the Pad prototype. They are currently working on a pilot project with Karen Jacobs, Ph.D., at Boston University to test its effectiveness.

“Our grant money has been used not only to further develop our prototype, but to do a lot of education about ergonomics and posture to kids, teachers, and families in our communities,” Colford said.

The study, titled “Back Straight Boys: Middle School Students’ Initiative for Healthy Computing,” will be presented on Sept. 22, 2011.

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