Child Health and Safety: Is Your Child’s Schoolbag Too Heavy?

Heavy school bags are bad for your child’s back.

When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with books, is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backward. To compensate, a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight might cause some kids to develop shoulder, neck, and back pain.

Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder — as many do, because they think it looks better or just feels easier — may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. They might develop lower and upper back pain and strain their shoulders and neck. – Kidshealth

  • Most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs.
  • A study of 1,403 Spanishchildren aged 12 to 17 found that 61% had backpacks exceeding 10% of their bodyweight and that these children were more likely to get back pain than children carrying lighter bags. – The Guardian
  • Dr. Pierre d’Hemecourt of the Division of Sports Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital says that during periods of rapid growth, adolescents’ spines are changing and it’s a good idea to be careful about increasing stress on the lower back – AMC
  • According to spine specialist Dr Su Lin Ming, if your child’s schoolbag weighs more than 20% of your child’s weight, it could increase the risk of scoliosis – Sin Chew

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine (as shown in the photo below).

Scoliosis
Photo Credit: Sin Chew

Although some experts believe that carrying heavy weights and bad posture may lead to the development of scoliosis, the jury’s still out on this on…

  • While carrying a heavy bag affects how you walk (for example changing the head-neck angle, making the shoulders asymmetrical and increasing how much the hips and knees move), there is no evidence that it causes any lasting deformity such as scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. – The Guardian
  • Diagnosed using an X-ray, the condition shows how increasing loads on the back flattens the “S” curve of the spine and reduce its capacity to reposition itself. Four to five out of 1,000 Hong Kong students suffer scoliosis, according to the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Hong Kong medical school. – SCMP

However, regardless of whether heavy schoolbags cause scoliosis or not, the consensus is that carrying heavy bags are bad for growing children.

I’ve been bugged by this one for a while and I thought we had solved it when we got my son a trolley bag:

School bag - trolley bag

Well, it worked for a while when he was still having classes on the ground level. Now that he has moved up two levels, it means having to carry his bag up six flights of stairs. The trolley bag is designed to be rolled up and down stairs, but it is cumbersome and even that can be tough when the bag is heavy. The added weight of the trolley and wheels and metal frame also means that the bag is heavy even when it’s empty.

So what are the best bags for school?

The ideal bag should have these features:

  • lightweight – it should not add weight to your child’s load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks)
  • two wide, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders which may interfere with circulation and nerves. Thin narrow straps can contribute to tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms and hands.
  • a padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack
  • a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body
  • multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly

You should also encourage your child to use the backpack properly, for instance:

  • making sure that the backpack is worn properly on both shoulders to ensure even weight distribution,
  • inculcating good habits of cleaning out the bag regularly so that only the required items are in the bag on any day

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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