Burden of proof

Research shows that children routinely carry school backpacks that are too heavy. Occupational therapy faculty and students show how your kids can avoid strain and pain

September 24 is National School Backpack Awareness day, and Puget Sound occupational therapy students and professors will be working with local schools to help get the word out about the health problems children encounter with overloaded backpacks. Here is some of the information they will be sharing:

  • Children wearing overloaded or improperly worn backpacks are likely to experience neck, shoulder, and back pain, as well as adverse effects on posture and the developing spine, compromised breathing, and fatigue.
  • More than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 were related to backpacks and book bags. Approximately half of those injuries occurred in children 5 to 14 years old.
  • It is recommended that a loaded backpack weigh no more than 15 percent of your child’s body weight.
  • The average student carries a backpack weighing almost one fourth of his or her body weight. Three out of 10 students typically carry backpacks weighing up to one third of their body weight once a week.
  • In one study with American students, 6 out of 10 reported chronic back pain related to heavy backpacks. Among students who carried packs weighing 15 percent of their body weight or less, only 2 in 10 reported pain.
  • The way backpacks are worn is important. Lower positioning of the backpack approximates the body’s center of gravity and has the least effect on posture.

Other things you can do to make pack wearing safer:

  • Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back.
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around.
  • Reduce weight—don’t carry items that won’t be needed for the day’s activities.
  • On days the backpack is overloaded, hand-carry a book or other heavy item.
  • Always wear both shoulder straps.
  • Select a pack with well padded straps. Adjust the straps so the pack fits your child’s back snugly; a pack that hangs loosely can pull backwards and strain muscles.
  • Wear the waist belt if the pack has one; this helps distribute weight more evenly.

Find out more on the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association.