Don’t know for sure? You’re not the only one—most parents don’t know how much their child’s backpack weighs. In fact, researchers found that 96 percent of parents in several central Texas elementary schools had never weighed their child’s backpack. About 34 percent didn’t know what their child carried in the backpack. Paying attention to backpack weight, design and positioning can help protect your child from injury.
Injuries Caused by Backpacks
Children who carry backpacks that are too heavy or wear backpacks incorrectly are at risk for pain or injury. In 2013, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that over 22,000 injuries from backpacks were treated in outpatient clinics and emergency rooms.
“And these are only the reported injuries,” says Dr. Barbara Bergin, orthopedic surgeon with Texas Orthopedics, Sports and Rehabilitation Associates. “This doesn’t include children who aren’t aware that their back, neck or shoulder pain is caused by their backpacks or who don’t seek medical care.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack not be more than 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight. For example, if your child weighs 60 pounds, his backpack should not weigh more than 6 to 9 pounds.
For younger children and smaller-than-average boys and girls, the lower end of this range is better. Dr. Bergin says, “As boys develop in the middle-school years, they are usually strong enough to carry this weight range. But middle-school girls, while trying to carry equal loads, can’t manage as much weight. Also, girls are forming habits of good or bad posture at this age. Heavy backpacks can contribute to bad posture, such as slumped shoulders and rounded upper backs, which can cause medical problems later in life.”
What You Can Do
Here are some other actions you can take to help keep your child safe when wearing a backpack:
- Be firm about the 10 to 15 percent maximum backpack weight rule. At least weekly, go through the child’s backpack and remove unnecessary items. Occasionally weigh your child with and without her backpack on a bathroom scale to get an accurate weight.
- Make sure your child wears the backpack evenly positioned, with both shoulder straps in place and the waist strap buckled. The bottom of the backpack should not hang any lower than her waist.
- Encourage your child to tell you if she is having pain, tingling or burning sensations. If so, work with the school to find ways to lighten the load.
- Talk to your child’s teacher about how to decrease the number of books she carries around. Sometimes, it is possible to have separate sets of books for home and school.
- Talk to your child about using her locker between classes. Some children carry all of their books around in their backpacks from classroom to classroom. If your child’s school discourages or doesn’t allow children to use lockers, speak up for changes in this policy.
- Be an advocate for backpack safety at your child’s school. Organize an event for National School Backpack Awareness Day. See the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website for event strategies and materials at aota.org/backpack.
Tell us about your child’s backpack; is it too heavy? Fill out our brief questionnaire, results published in December issue.
Backpack Selection Checklist
|Backpack is made for a child||· Adult backpacks are made from heavier material and add excess weight.
· Adult backpacks are too large—a backpack shouldn’t be wider than the child’s back.
|Two wide straps that are padded and adjustable||· Wearing a backpack with only one strap can cause weight to be unevenly distributed.
· Narrow straps can be uncomfortable and cut off circulation.
· Straps should be adjusted so that the bottom of the backpack is no lower than the child’s waist.
|Waist strap||· A waist strap helps distribute weight to the hips.
· Without a waist strap, all of the weight hangs from the child’s shoulders and neck.
|Padded back||· Padding will help protect the child’s back from being poked by sharp edges of books and other objects.|
|Several compartments||· Weight can be distributed more evenly if there are multiple compartments.
· Place heaviest objects lower and close to the child’s back.
Backpack Weight Chart
|If Your Child is…||Backpack Weight Should Not Exceed|
|40 lbs.||4 to 6 lbs.|
|50 lbs.||5 to 7½ lbs.|
|60 lbs.||6 to 9 lbs.|
|70 lbs.||7 to 10½ lbs.|
|80 lbs.||8 to 12 lbs.|
|90 lbs.||9 to 13 ½ lbs.|
|100 lbs.||10 to 15 lbs.|
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.