Chinese health experts on Saturday warned parents in northern China against placing their infants in sandbags, a traditional practice they said may lead to mental retardation.
As a form of rural day care, peasant parents in north China have for hundreds of years put their children in large, stationary bags of fine sand, tied at the waist. The infants can stretch their legs somewhat in the sand but cannot crawl out, and the sand acts as a diaper that is changed daily. The infants are removed from the bags only for feeding.
But the China Daily, a state-run newspaper, reported that experts from the China Children's Development Center had issued a warning against the practice after conducting a survey that indicated the sandbags can cause health problems, including mental retardation.
The experts told the English-language newspaper that the practice has been found "extremely harmful" to infants, affecting their height, weight and intelligence. Many of the sandbag-reared children are shorter and skinnier than the general population, they said.
The research survey, conducted in Hebei and Shandong provinces in northeast China, found that 70% of the 400 "sandbag children" surveyed had been kept confined for as much as 20 hours each day before the age of 2.
Nearly 30% of the children, now around 10 years old, were found to be slightly mentally retarded. The incidence of rickets was also 20% higher than in the general population because the infants could not move around and exercise, the China Daily said.
"Their intelligence develops sluggishly due to lack of stimulation from activities and surroundings in the brain's formative period, when they are left alone lying in sandbags," a researcher told the newspaper.