BOLDFACE staffers, as part of their ongoing market research activities, frequently interact with the parents of young children and members of parent/teacher associations. We love meeting with these folks for many reasons, including using such interactions as informal focus group meetings.
If there's one thing we have learned over the many hours of conversations it is that most parents have no clue regarding the health risks to youth posed by improper backpack use and the measures that can be taken to protect our youth's health.
Too often kids overload their backpacks, putting the health of their backs at risk. And unfortunately, in many cases, parents, teachers and school administrators act as an unknowing accomplice when they ignore or even encourage maxing out the backpacks. Through our informal research we have determined that for the most part, parents and other adults lack an understanding of the risks associated with children carrying loads that are too heavy.
The result of our ignorance results in the development of nagging pains and injuries to our children that result from weighed-down backpacks that are far too heavy, based on the size and strength of the youth.
Contrary to popular belief, a good backpack is not one that can hold the kitchen sink. Medical professionals have researched the dangers associated with backpack use and have found that overstuffed backpacks are a common source of pain and injury in school-aged children.
The following are practical tips intended to protect youth from injuries that can result from improper backpack usage.
1) Ensure the backpack comes with wide, padded shoulder straps. Backpacks are no longer just about utility. Backpacks today are also considered apparel. In keeping with fashion expectations some backpack straps are thin and unpadded. Avoid these backpacks for everyday school use as they can hurt and damage skin.
2) Ensure the backpack comes with a padded back. Books and other contents have sharp and/or hard edges. A padded back protects against pain associated with continuous contact against hard edges.
3) Pack light, with the backpack weighing no more than 10% – 20% of body weight. Medical professionals advise against packing more than 20% of the child’s body weight to avoid strain on the back.
4) Organize the contents with the heaviest items closest to the back. Contents should be arranged to ensure that the heaviest items are placed closest to the back. This keeps the weight from pulling the child backwards and prevents back strain.
5) Use both straps. While hanging the backpack on only one shoulder may be convenient or look “cool,” it can cause back pain as the spine is forced to cope with uneven distribution of weight.
6) Keep the straps snug. Snug straps keep the load of the backpack close to the back and reduce backward pull against the body.
7) Pick up backpack bending both knees. Any time something is being lifted, regardless of weight, proper form is essential. Both knees should be bent when picking up a backpack to prevent strain on the back.
8) Ensure bottom of backpack rests in the curve of the lower back when being worn. The back and shoulders should carry the load. The higher position reduces strain.
9) If the weight exceeds 20% carry an item in hand to reduce weight in backpack. When possible carry an item outside the backpack in order to keep the contents lighter.
10) Keep pens, pencils and other sharp objects in hard plastic cases to prevent them from poking through backpack and harming your child. Sharp items roaming loose may harm your child or someone brushing up against the backpack.