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Back to school – backpacks carry risks

Back to school – backpacks carry risks


Media release

29 January 2008

Back to school – backpacks carry risks

Back to school often means a new school bag, which is most often a backpack.

“The right backpack that is not too heavy and which is worn properly is the best bag for Kiwi kids. Backpacks are far superior to the old traditional schoolbag with handles,” says Dr Simon Kelly, a spokesperson for the New Zealand Chiropractors Association.

“However, care must be taken with the selection and use of backpacks. Everyone knows that heavy backpacks can cause back pain when students use them to carry large textbooks, sports equipment and laptop computers.

“Casual observation shos the weight most kids are carrying, and the way they’re carrying it, well exceeds recommendations for adult weight bearing in the workplace. And the kids are doing it day in and day out for years,” Dr Kelly said.

While there are very real risks of causing spinal damage, there is little public education or information about ways to reduce these risks. The Department of Labour’s occupational health and safety people have no recommendations as backpacks are not an employment issue but the Ministry of Education’s website does contain some guidelines in a newsletter.

Therefore, as now is the time when most backpacks are purchased, the Chiropractic Association urges parents to buy ergonomic backpacks, teach their children how to pack their bags and how to lift and wear them properly.

“For a start a good rule to follow is that no-one should attempt to carry any more than 10-15% of one’s body weight. Indeed the Victorian State Government in Australia recommends a backpack should weigh less than 10% of a child’s body weight,” Dr Kelly said.

“If a child is leaning forward, the backpack is too heavy, poorly fitted or badly packed,” he observed.

10 Golden rules for backpacks
The ten golden rules for backpacks are:

1. Ensure that any backpack purchased is approved by the child – if it is ‘uncool’, they won’t use it.

2. Buy backpacks with wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps. Padded straps help absorb the load while narrow straps can dig painfully into shoulders.

3. Look for a backpack with “S” shaped shoulder straps. These will ergonomically contour to a child’s body.

4. Choose a backpack with a moulded frame and/or adjustable hip strap so the weight of the fill backpack will rest on the child’s pelvis rather than their shoulders or spines.

5. Be sure the backpack is the right size. It should not be wider or longer than your child's torso, (i.e. from the bony bump at the base of the neck down to the top of the hips.)

6. Pack heavy items so they are closest to the child’s back and make sure they can’t move around. It is important to be balanced in the natural centre of gravity.

7. Make sure the child understands that carrying a backpack over one shoulder will cause pack pain and possible injury.

8. Consider the weight of the backpack when empty. Canvas bags are lighter than leather.

9. Suggest to children that they use lockers to store unneeded books and sports equipment.

10. Don’t try to save money by buying the biggest pack ‘to last through college’ – buy one that is appropriate to the child’s size.

The chiropractic profession in both Australia and New Zealand has been so concerned about the availability of suitable backpacks that both have endorsed Chiropak Schoolbags made by Spartan Bags. These bags were developed at the Macquarie University’s Department of Health and Chiropractic [See Macquarie website ]. Chiropak was also a finalist in the Australian Design Awards and was named one of the best backpacks in the world in a U.S. study.



Please contact Dr Simon Kelly on 09 638 8266 or 021 384 474. Photo opportunities of children with backpacks can be arranged in the Auckland area.

BACKGROUND: Back-packs – very little international research
Despite the numbers of backpacks carried by children all around the world there has been very little formal research into the issue.

The Victorian State Government in Australia [Back pain – schoolbags] says that around 70% of schoolchildren may be damaging their spines by carrying schoolbags. A heavy bag slung over one shoulder, can, over 12 years of schooling, cause chronic back problems their material suggests.

Research in France [ See number 3.] questioned 123 eighth grade students how they got to school (walk or ride), how they carried their backpacks (by hand or on their shoulders), how much their packs weighed, and if they had any back pain.

The average age of the students was 14 years, the average body weight was 51.5 kg, and the average weight of their backpacks was 9.6kg. This means the students were carrying almost 20% of their bodyweight. On the day that students answered the questionnaire, 27.6% said they had back pain, and 82.9% said they had had back pain during the previous 12 months.

Other results in the French survey showed that girls reported more pain than boys, and students who walked to school had more back pain than those who used their bikes. When compared with students who carried their backpacks on their shoulders, students who carried them by hand were more likely to be absent from school or miss sport activities because of reported back pain.

Students who carried packs weighing more than 20% of their body weight reported more back pain and had to see a doctor more often for the pain compared with those who carried less heavy packs.

This data suggests an association between backpack weight and back pain, and as a result the French Bureau of Education and the American Chiropractic Association recommend that backpacks weigh no more than 10% of a student’s body weight.

© Scoop Media

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