Gym shoes? Check. Books? Check. Binder? Check. Folder and notebooks? Check and check.
Now that you know your child has everything he or she needs in their backpack, have you checked its weight?
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, backpacks that are too heavy or are worn incorrectly can cause problems for children and teenagers. These problems frequently result in a trip to a doctor’s office.
Diana Peterson, MD, a pediatrician at Trinity Health, says she frequently sees patients with such problems. “Parents worry that a heavy backpack can cause scoliosis, but that’s not the case. It can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain, however.”
Over time, a child’s posture can also be affected as they try to compensate for the backpack’s heaviness. Additionally, a heavy backpack can increase the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the wearer off balance.
The problem of students carrying backpacks that are too heavy for their weight isn’t new, but it was exacerbated last school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many places, students weren’t allowed access to lockers for health and safety reasons; instead, they had to carry an entire day’s worth of school supplies in their backpack. Outside of the pandemic, students carry too much stuff in their backpacks for a multitude of reasons, including time constraints in between classes, class locations, or the overall layout of the school campus.
Doctors recommend that children should not carry more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. For example, the maximum backpack weight for a 60-pound student is nine pounds, and the maximum weight for an 80-pound student is 12 pounds.
Dr. Peterson offers the following tips to students:
- Wear backpack on both shoulders to distribute the weight.
- Distribute the weight evenly throughout the backpack; for example, use all the pockets and, if necessary, carry some items in your arms.
- Have good padding on the backpack straps.
- If you have access to a locker, leave the books you aren’t using at that time in your locker.
- If there are extra books, have two sets so one set be can be left at home and one at school.
- When and where possible, use a rolling backpack.
- Teachers frequently only assign homework out of the books and don’t use them in class. If that’s the case, leave your book(s) for that class at home or in your locker.
According to Dr. Peterson, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “If an individual is having problems, they should address it with the school and brainstorm [a solution].”