Purchasing a new backpack for school can be an exciting and important event for a student headed back to school. They come in all shapes and styles from pink and cute to dark, sleek and athletic looking. I see them each year in my classroom and smile at how each one shares the personality of the student wearing it. The backpack will be part of your child’s school career, so at this back-to-school time, it is important to think about how a heavy backpack can spell trouble for your student.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), parents should consider the construction of the backpack before buying. For instance, look for lightweight canvas rather than heavier leather packs. Wide shoulder straps are more comfortable because they won’t dig into the tops of your child’s shoulders. Padding inside the pack on the side that rests against the student’s back will shield against any pointed objects sticking through. A belt around the bottom of the pack is especially helpful to bike riders as it helps to distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across the body. Several outside pockets aid in weight distribution.
The University of Colorado also offers recommendations and a calculator concerning how much a child’s backpack should weigh. If you pick up your student’s backpack and wear it, you may be shocked at the poundage! While AAP recommends that a backpack should weigh no more that 10 - 20 percent of a child’s weight, the University of Colorado is comfortable with a backpack that doesn’t weigh more than 15 percent of a child’s weight. You can view the University’s safe backpack weight calculator at: http://www.uch.edu/conditions/wellness-prevention/wellness-tools/infant-children/safe-backpack-weight-calculator/
Educate your student on the importance of keeping the weight down in his or her backpack. Encourage your student to bend at the knees before lifting the pack into place. Remind an older student that while slinging the pack over just one shoulder looks mighty cool, using both straps is healthier on the back’s muscles and bones. Make sure your student isn’t struggling to get the backpack on or off. This may mean too much weight, or maybe the straps need adjusting so that the backpack rests up against the middle of the back. If your child complains of back pain, numbness or weakness in arms or legs, talk to your family doctor or physical therapist.
Reviewed August 4, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith