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The Dangers of Backpacks

From grade school to college, everyone uses a backpack! Even preschoolers use backpacks these days! Did you know that this seemingly harmless school supply is actually dangerous to your child’s health? For the past 15 years, backpacks have a trend of getting bigger and heavier, and not in proportion to kids’ sizes. Studies have shown that backpack loads are responsible for a significant amount of back pain in children. In 2010 a full third of kids aged 11 to 14 reported back pain.

Children’s spines are still developing, so putting too much weight on a child’s young body could change a kid’s posture, compress his or her spine, and impair growth. This can not only affect your child’s health, but can have an impact on their academics as well. Spinal problems in kids as a result of heavy backpacks can contribute to headaches, frequent illness, and problems concentrating at school. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, backpack-related injuries send an estimated 5,000 children a year to emergency rooms. More than 14,000 children are treated annually for injuries.

So here is the question every parent is thinking right now: How heavy is too heavy? As a general rule, research shows the backpack should be no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight to avoid pain or potential injury. To be cautious, most experts encourage no more that 10 percent.

For an elementary school child who weighs just 50 or 60 pounds, a couple textbooks and lunch could push a pack beyond the safe threshold. For that reason, it is important to check your child’s backpack every day to ensure he or she is carrying only what is absolutely needed. If your child carries a water bottle, encourage him or her to fill it up at school instead of carrying that weight.

Proper fit and design are important to relieve pressure from your child’s spine and shoulders. Padded shoulder straps and a cushioned back will also prevent aches and pains. Always make sure your child carries the backpack using both straps rather than swung over only one shoulder. Parents can also consider non-backpack options, such as a small roller bag. 

See Dr. Vidan’s recent Fox 2 News segment for more tips on back to school backpacks!

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