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Choosing the Perfect Backpack for Your Child

Find The Best Backpack That Will keep your Child Safe

Each school year, parents become concerned with their children eating a good breakfast, studying, doing homework and getting enough sleep. But there is one issue weighing parents – and their children – down: overly heavy backpacks.

According to Backpack Safety America (BSA), medical experts agree that as a general rule, children should not carry more than 15 to 20 percent of their body weight in their backpacks.

A 50-pound elementary school student should not carry more than 7 to 10 pounds. A 100-pound middle school student's limit should be 15 to 20 pounds, and a 150-pound high school student's maximum backpack weight limit should not exceed 22 1/2 to 30 pounds. (The average high school student consistently carries anywhere from 35 to 42 pounds.)

Back Pack Injuries

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to backpacks and book bags. Consistent hauling is guilty of not only causing acute injury, but also contributing to long-term damage. How exactly does carrying a backpack affect the spine?

"Common sense tells us that a heavy load, distributed improperly or unevenly, day after day, is indeed going to cause stress to a growing spinal column," explains Dr. Marvin T. Arnsdorff, chiropractor and co-founder of the BSA school education program. "The old adage 'as the twig is bent, so grows the tree' comes to mind. We are seeing a growing concern about the improper use of backpacks and the relatively scarce amount of educational and preventive information available to young people."

With the growing concern, manufacturers and designers of backpacks and book bags are beginning to see – and include – the importance of various safety features in their products.

"JanSport is very concerned about...students carrying larger and larger amounts of stuff in their packs," says Gigi de Young, a representative of JanSport, Inc. "When students write to us requesting that we suggest a 'really large pack' or imply that they will be carrying a big load this school year, we send them this warning: 'We sympathize with your need to carry a lot of stuff, but remember that if used or packed improperly, a pack may actually affect your posture and cause shoulder or lower-back pain.' Safety and comfort are very important when it comes to backpacks."

Educating the Masses

The backpack is not always the cause of the problem. Children and teens simply have not been properly instructed on the correct methods of packing, lifting and carrying their backpacks. There is more to it than "stuff, pick-up and go." The problem – and ultimately any injury – stems from a lack of information delivered to students, parents, teachers and school administrators.

"[JanSport] has made reducing backpack-related stress and strain a major goal," says Tim Brockman, vice president of brand management for JanSport's equipment division. "Through publicity efforts and product merchandising, a trend in educating consumers about the improper loading and wearing of packs and the benefits of its new and existing packs is catching. But it's clear that consumers are carrying increasingly heavier loads in backpacks and carrying them in ways for which they were not designed. More education is needed."

The JanSport safety program includes both educating the consumer about the proper use of the pack and demanding that manufacturers produce backpacks that are even easier to use safely and comfortably.

Step by Step

The BSA states that there is an easy-to-follow, four-step method for wearing and using a backpack in the safest, most comfortable way. The steps are:

Step 1: Choose Right.

Choosing the right size backpack is the most important step to safe backpack use.
Tip: Bring a friend to help you measure your backpack properly.

Step 2: Pack Right.

The maximum weight of the loaded backpack should not exceed 15 percent of your body weight, so pack only what is needed.
Tip: If the backpack forces the wearer to move forward to carry, it's overloaded.

Step 3: Lift Right.

Face the pack. Bend at the knees. Use both hands and check the weight of the pack. Lift with the legs. Apply one shoulder strap and then the other.
Tip: Don't sling the backpack onto one shoulder.

Step 4: Wear Right.

Use both shoulder straps, snug, but not too tight.
Tip: When the backpack has a waist strap, use it.

Purchasing Dos and Don'ts

According to Young, when considering what backpack to purchase, three things should come to mind: safety, comfort and (of course) trend or style.

  • Safety: Make sure the pack has two padded, adjustable straps. If your child will be carrying a large load, such as later middleschoolers and highschoolers often do, you may also want to consider an additional waist strap.
  • Comfort: Select a backpack with several compartments, so weight can be dispersed evenly across a child's back. Again, look for heavily padded shoulder straps.
  • Style and Trend: Many manufacturers have taken to combining style and trend with the latest safety and comfort features. For examples, visit JanSport online.

Backpacks have become as common as pencils and paper in schools across the country, but medical experts say that this back-to-school staple is fast becoming a danger to student's health.

"You don't need to be a scientist to understand the effects of backpacks on young spines," says Arnsdorff. "Watch students in any school yard struggle to walk while bent sideways under the weight of an overloaded backpack on one shoulder, and you'll quickly realize the potential danger of this commonplace item. But, with a little education, knowledge and time, your student can carry a backpack and keep his or her back pain and injury free."

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