School Backpacks and Children
By University of the Sciences in Philadelphia
quintessential picture of a young student slouched forward while
toting a burdensome backpack to school is not the image occupational
and physical therapists would like to see. Schoolchildren and teens
all over the country carry backpacks filled with textbooks and other
heavy items that can cause physical strains and pains. The U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that more than 3,300
children, aged 5-14 years, were treated in emergency rooms for injuries
related to backpacks in 1998. This does not include the long-term
effects, such as neck and back ailments, which backpacks can cause
if used incorrectly. These numbers may increase if parents and school
officials are not educated in backpack safety.
backpacks breed poor posture in children, says Dr. Paula Kramer,
chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at University of
the Sciences in Philadelphia. Children have to bend forwards
to compensate for the heavy load on their backs which throw off
their center of gravity. This increased weight puts a strain on
their backs and pressure on their disks. We want parents and children
to realize the right ways to use backpacks.
what exactly are the right ways? According to many doctors, physical
and occupational therapists, children should learn how to select
the right backpack and the proper ways to load and wear it. Here
are some helpful tips from the American Occupational Therapy Association
a backpack that is appropriate to the childs size and age.
a backpack that has well-padded shoulder straps.
should not carry more than 15% of their body weight in the backpack.
the heaviest items closest to the childs back to help distribute
wear both shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly.
shoulder straps so that the backpack fits snugly to the back.
bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the lower back.
to Teaching Elementary Physical Health, more than 40 million students
carry school backpacks. Dr. Kramer says that if the majority of
these students are carrying their backpacks incorrectly, then physical
and occupational therapists will be treating many more individuals
for neck and back ailments.
already have a big population of people complaining about neck and
back pains, she says. If children keep wearing backpacks
that are heavy and packed improperly, they may be causing themselves
a lifetime of aches and pains. We want to protect our children and
their development. We need to stress this to parents and then maybe
we will see the number of children having achy backs decrease.
is joining in the mission to alert parents of school-aged children
and school officials. On September 21, AOTA will sponsor School
Backpack Awareness Day. This pilot program, which will target five
major media markets, will entail a weigh in for children
to make sure their backpacks weigh no more than 15%. Information
about the correct ways to select, load and wear backpacks will be
program is a great start, says Dr. Kramer, but it should
not be a one-day occurrence. Id love to see this be an annual
For more information, visit www.usip.edu