- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lighten up, ladies, and beware the ponderous purse. That gargantuan handbag poses a serious health risk.

“I see so many women with neck pains and headaches, and what I usually do is look for their purse and pick it up,” said Baylor Health Care System family physician Dr. Jane Sadler yesterday.

“We take it over to the scale and weigh it, and usually they’re anywhere from 7 to 10 pounds,” said Dr. Sadler, particularly faulting oversized purses currently in favor among Hollywood starlets, socialites and the proverbial girl on the go.

Even NBC saw fit to investigate the phenomenon, revealing in a Jan. 2 news story that the hardware alone weighed a pound on a purse designed by singer Beyonce.

“If you think about how you carry a bag, it’s usually on one side and you kind of pull your neck to one side and lift your shoulder. It’s a very unnatural position,” Dr. Sadler said. “It creates strain along the neck and into the nerves that exit the neck and down the shoulder.”

The heavy-handbag syndrome and “purse injuries” also have attracted the attention of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), which recommends that handbags weigh no more than 10 percent of total body weight.

Meanwhile, the big-bag trend has provided a security challenge for, among others, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and stadiums across the country.

Women, though, seemed determined to shoulder this fashion burden. Today’s women lug around twice as much junk as their mothers, according to a survey released last year by Jabra, a European electronics manufacturer. Weighty modern essentials include the IPod, cell phone, headset, laptop, multiple credit and identity cards, makeup bag, water bottle, and keys for the car, home and work.

At least two manufacturers offer handbags with interior lights to keep track of it all, and online video sites such as YouTube regularly showcase the mystery contents of assorted purses.

Women carry more stuff to generate feelings of “preparedness, security and comfort,” said Vivian Lew, a Wesleyan University psychology student who researched the woman-purse connection.

She concluded that the purse was “an intimate companion and portable refuge.”

Refuge or not, both Dr. Sadler and the ACA recommend that women purge purses of unnecessary accessories.

“We’re really going to see women with more and more problems if we continue the big-purse craze,” Dr. Sadler said.

Researchers also found that handbags carry more than accouterments — they can be Petrie dishes. Lab studies conducted by Baylor Health Care System and the University of Arizona last year found that many bags harbored harmful bacteria, including deadly E. coli and staphylococcus aureus, which can cause impetigo skin infections and toxic shock syndrome.

Researchers recommended women occasionally wipe down their purses with an anti-bacterial solution and hang their bags on a hook in public restrooms. Purses also should be banned from kitchen counters and food preparation areas.

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