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Published on August 27, 2014

Back-to-School Safety Tips: Lifting the Burden of Heavy Backpacks

If it seems as though your child slouches a little bit more with every new school year that passes, you’re probably right. But before you quickly blame it on her excessive iPad use, there may be another culprit behind this issue: a heavy backpack.

“Once kids get into their middle school years, they begin carrying incredible weight in the backpacks compared to their body size,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, Chair of the Pediatrics Department at Abington - Jefferson Health. “They may be strong and healthy, but the weight will fatigue them after a while and overwork their lower extremities.”

Extra Weight

Many students who are required to lug bulky textbooks to and from class every day are adding up to 15 pounds of extra weight onto their backs, causing harm to their bodies and even threatening their safety.

“When you have an 11 or 12 year old girl with 12 pounds added to her back, for example, her hips and shoulders will ache,” said Dr. Shapiro. “Even though they may get stronger over time, their bones and body will hurt more than they should.”

The extra weight also forces children to lean forward at a 20-30 degree angle in order to balance themselves, which puts additional stress on the lower part of their bodies. And it only gets worse among children who have, or who are at risk, for certain physical conditions. Those with developing scoliosis or flat feet, for example, end up worsening their condition as a result of compensating for the extra weight.

Bags with tight, narrow straps can also dig into the shoulders and even cause damage to nerves and inhibit circulation, often leading to tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms and hands.

Heavy backpacks can also make it difficult for kids to simply move around, and can turn simple tasks such as crossing the street a dangerous challenge for some since they can’t turn to check for cars as well.

What Can You Do?

So how can you help your child alleviate the burden of their heavy backpack?

While roller bags are the most practical, they unfortunately have the stigma of not being cool. Some schools even ban roller bags if they can’t be properly stored in a locker or classroom.  So if roller bags aren’t an option, stick to backpacks that have two wide, padded shoulder straps. Shoulder bags may be trendy, but it forces the weight of its contents onto one part of the body. With a regular backpack, the weight of heavy textbooks and supplies is spread out over a larger area.

Kids should also keep the straps tight and pack heavier items at the bottom and in the center of the backpack. They should also bend their knees whenever picking up their bag to prevent further strain on their backs and arms as well.

But backpack safety doesn’t stop there. It’s also up to the parents to take action. Dr. Shapiro recommends that parents purchase a second set of textbooks for their kids if possible, or reach out to their local school districts to support the cause. “Parents have to be proactive in assessing the real situation being created by these huge backpacks. They can’t be afraid to speak up for their children,” said Dr. Shapiro.

Even though it’s only a matter of time before textbooks become available online, parents should urge their school districts to further support and possibly even expedite this transition.




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