Almost 100% of children in grade school, high school, and college carry backpacks to transport books and materials. Statistics released by the American Occupational Therapy Association show that most backpacks are overloaded, unbalanced, and cause damage to the spine. A published study showed children should not carry more than 15% of their body weight in a backpack. More realistic estimates would be anywhere between 10% and 17% of body weight to be carried on a child’s spine. Some countries have even gone as far as passing laws limiting the amount of weight a teacher can make a child carry. This option may not be feasible or even necessary if parents, teachers, and especially the children are made aware of the limitations of a youth’s spine in relationship to loading.
General Guidelines for Backpack Safety:
- Backpacks should be loaded with the heaviest books in first and closest to the back.
- Wide, heavily-padded shoulder straps should be worn at all times.
- A waist strap should be used if the pack approaches or exceeds the recommended weight.
- Make a check list of what is needed for the day and leave the other items at home.
- Have an additional fanny pack carried in front for cell phones, calculators, and other small items.
- When lifting the backpack to put it on, bend at the hips and knees, keeping the load close to the body.
- Never sling the backpack on one shoulder.
- Look for a style of pack with compartments to distribute the weight.
- Adjust the straps so the backpack fits snugly against the back.
- If the child is leaning forward to carry the pack, it is too heavy.
- Look for an ergonomic backpack with proper weight distribution, which will usually encompass a pack that distributes the weight into the lower pack more than the shoulder area.
- The backpack should weigh no more than 17% of the carrier’s weight; 10% is the recommended load.