A dangerous curve: the role of history in America's scoliosis screening programs

Am J Public Health. 2012 Apr;102(4):606-16. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300531. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


In 2004, the US Preventive Services Task Force called for an end to scoliosis screening in US public schools. However, screening endures, although most nations have ended their screening programs. Why? Explanations range from America's unique fee-for-service health care system and its encouragement of high-cost medical specialism to the nation's captivation with new surgeries and technologies. I highlight another, more historical, reason: the persistence of the belief that spinal curvature is a sign of a progressive disease or disability. Despite improved health and the mid-20th-century discovery of antibiotics and vaccines that all but eradicated the diseases historically associated with scoliosis (e.g., polio and tuberculosis), the health fears associated with spinal curvature never fully dissipated. Scoliosis is still seen as a "dangerous curve," although the exact nature of the health risk remains unclear.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Health Policy / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / history*
  • Schools
  • Scoliosis / diagnosis
  • Scoliosis / history*
  • United States