Bulging backpacks an unhealthy burden for kids

September 3, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

There have been times when my middle schooler’s backpack was so heavy I couldn’t figure out how she managed to lug it up the driveway on her small frame. My daughter would assure me everything in her backpack was necessary, but that did nothing to ease my mind about how the weight could affect her back health.

Aching back and shoulders, tingling arms and weakened muscles – not to mention stooped posture – have been attributed to carrying a backpack with too much weight, or wearing it incorrectly. Over the long-term, overburdened backpacks can lead to health problems. According to studies by the Mayo Clinic and others, more than 7,000 emergency room visits each year can be attributed to back pain caused by overpacked or improperly packed backpacks.

Experts say a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 15 percent of his or her weight. That means for an 80-pound child, a backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 12 pounds.

As you head out to purchase school supplies, consider the following tips if a new backpack is on your list:

Start by choosing a backpack with well-padded, ergonomic shoulder straps. Backpacks are sized differently based on a child’s age, so be sure to choose the size that’s right for your child. Unfortunately, say experts, you get what you pay for when you purchase a backpack. A less-expensive backpack will provide less support for your child, so consider making an investment in a better-quality backpack. Some estimates say you can expect to spend about $40 or more for a good backpack.

Minimize the pain and strain associated with heavy backpacks by packing it correctly. Heavy items should be loaded closest to the child’s back, and books should be arranged so they don’t slide around. If the backpack is still too heavy or over packed, encourage your child to hand-carry a book or other item.

Both straps of the backpack should be used so weight is evenly distributed. A pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, making the spine curve and cause discomfort or pain. Adjust straps so the backpack fits snugly and rests in the curve of the child’s back. The bottom of the pack should hang no more than 4 inches below the child’s waist.

Some backpacks have a waist belt, which when used can stabilize the pack and distribute the weight more evenly over the back.


For more tips on selecting a backpack for your child, view these resources:


WebMD.com: Kids Backpacks