Helping Students Ease the Backpack Burden

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is working to educate students, parents, and communities about the potentially serious health effects from school backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly.

So, what's all the flap about? Here are a few points of information from AOTA. More information can be accessed on their website at www.aota.org.
  • More than 40 million students in the United States carry school backpacks.
  • More than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 were related to backpacks and book bags. Approximately half of those injuries occurred in children 5 to 14 years old.
  • It is recommended that a loaded backpack weigh nor more than 15% (about one-sixth) of a student's body weight. For a student weighing 100 pounds, this means the backpack should weigh no more than 15 pounds.
  • The way backpacks are worn has an impact. Lower positioning of the backpack approximates the body's center of gravity and has the least effect on posture.

Carrying too much weight in a pack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to pain and strain. Parents can take steps to help children load and wear backpacks the right way to avoid health problems.

Pack It Light, Wear It Right
  • Never let a child carry more than 15% of his or her body weight.
  • Load heaviest items closest to the child's back (the back of the pack).
  • Arrange books and materials so they won't slide around in the backpack.
  • Check to make certain the items your child carries to school and brings home are necessary for the day's activities.
  • On days the backpack is too loaded, your child can hand carry a book or other item.
  • Both shoulder straps should always be worn. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
  • Select a pack with well-padded should straps. Adjust the straps so that the pack fits snugly to the child's back.
  • Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back.
  • Choose the right size pack for your child's back as well as one with enough room for necessary school items.
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