That Backpack is Way Too Heavy

Some kids lug around as much as 30 pounds a day — no wonder they're in pain

School is finally in full swing, and by now schedules and assignments already feel like old hat. Well, maybe some of it does.

When it comes to the load students carry around — the physical load of books, notebooks, and other supplies in their backpacks — there’s a problem. The sheer physical weight they’re expected to carry from home to classes and back continues to grow, and it’s causing some real health concerns for students and their parents.

The strain of an overloaded backpack puts kids at risk for a number of physical ailments.

“I lifted up my son’s backpack one afternoon when he got home [from middle school] and I couldn’t believe how solid and heavy it was,” said one mother from New York. “I was truly shocked.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association says that when kids carry more than 10 percent of their body weight, they can incur problems that can last into adulthood. Consumer Reports did a survey in 2012 to determine how much weight kids were carrying in their backpacks. Researchers found that kids in second grade and fourth grade were carrying about five pounds of books and homework — and that was just the early grades.

By sixth grade the average kid’s backpack was found to weigh 18.4 pounds — with some even reaching 30 pounds. The day-in-and-day-out strain of an overloaded backpack puts kids at risk for a number of physical ailments, including lower back pain. That’s something kids are far too young to have.

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As advanced as many classrooms are today — with e-books, iPads, laptops, and more — why are heavy backpacks such a problem?

One obvious answer is: Use lockers during the day instead of lugging everything around, and at night, take home only what’s needed. One problem: Lockers are no longer a guaranteed accommodation at many schools. Vandalism issues, space shortages, and even security concerns are a few of the reasons many schools are going lockerless.

So the weight kids are expected to carry around keeps escalating — and the ages at which children are required to carry an unnecessary amount of books and school supplies continues to get even younger. In 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that nearly 22,000 strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures as a result of heavy backpacks were treated in hospital emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, and clinics.

Now, due to a growing number of physical injuries that children face as a result of carrying too much, schools are being challenged to be more proactive.

Related: American Child Care Gets a Boost

Parental awareness and advocacy is a great place to start when it comes to pre-adolescent orthopedic health. Though there are many ways to prevent injuries in your children, here are a few tips from The American Occupational Therapy Association:

1.) Always select a backpack that’s correct for the child’s size.

2.) Make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.

3.) The shoulder straps on both shoulders should be well-padded, so that weight is evenly balanced.

4.) Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back, and balance materials so the child can easily stand up straight.

5.) Have the child wear the hip belt if the backpack has one, to improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.

6.) Be sure the child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. If it weighs more, determine what supplies can stay at home or at school each day to lessen the load.

7.) If the backpack is still too heavy for the child, consider a book bag on wheels.

On Wednesday — National School Backpack Awareness Day — parents, caregivers, educators, and health professionals are encouraged to take better care of kids’ well-being — there will be plenty of backpack weigh-ins, backpack check-ups, activities, and other special events to draw attention to this issue and share information.