As children get ready to head back to school, there's an often overlooked health risk you have them carry to class every day: their backpack. Sure, it looks harmless, what with the Dora the Explorer figurines or other rather unimposing designs. But as kids collect their books and get involved in their schoolwork, lugging around all of that extra weight that's piled inside can take its toll.
In 2008, Consumer Reports sent out staffers to three different New York Schools on a quest to weigh the backpacks of 50 kids. Their results found that second-graders hauled around an average of 5.3 pounds. Fourth-graders, surprisingly, had just 4.6 pounds average between them. Sixth-graders were the real losers of the bunch, hauling around an average of 5.3 pounds.
“Kids are very susceptible to back pain with carrying weight,” says Orly Avitzur, a neurologist and medical adviser for Consumer Reports. “We know that an increasing number of children over the years are getting more back pain.” So parents need to look at more than just their child's favorite TV characters when choosing a backpack. It needs to be comfortable, too. Here are some tips to keep your child's backpack from breaking their back:
1. When kids try it on, the shoulder strap anchors should be about one to two inches below the top of their shoulder. The bottom of the backpack should go along the curve of their lower back and shouldn't fall more than 4 inches below the waist.
2. When you go to the store to test it out, go over to the book isle (or bring a few older books of your own, just make sure they actually are older, or security may come over to say hello on your way out) and have your child test a prospective backpack with weight inside to see how it feels. A backpack can feel completely different loaded than unloaded, and your child should test it according to how it will be used. Gather the approximate weight the child will carry, and try on different ones until you select which is most comfortable.
3. Get younger kids a backpack with a handle that extends out to roll on wheels. It can help relieve the burden, reducing the times they are forced to shoulder the weight.