Here's Why Your Kid's Big Backpack Is a Big Problem

Your kid's backpack is all set for back-to-school: a mini-bottle of hand sanitizer to protect him from germs, a huge water Thermos to protect him from dehydration, snacks to protect him from a mid-morning slump. But what's going to protect him from having a dangerously heavy backpack?


Studies are showing that the increasingly enormous backpacks kids are toting to and from school are actually a hazard to their health. Somewhere around a third of kids of middle-school age are suffering from back pain -- which is a problem people my age should be dealing with, not people young enough to still play with Legos on a regular basis -- and that back pain is probably related to the loads they're carrying.

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A heavy backpack puts a lot of wanted strain on a child's spine. Experts say that a good baseline for backpack weight is no more than 10-15 percent of the body weight of the child wearing it. With the average textbook clocking in at 3.5 pounds, and adding in a lunchbox, school supplies, binders, and the rest, that weight racks up fast -- which, if you've ever thought you might need to buy a camping backpack to hold all you kid's school gear, you probably already realize. There are some things you can do to help minimize or mitigate the issue; sending an empty water bottle that can be refilled at a school fountain, for example, and packing the heaviest items to sit closest to the child's back can help reduce the amount of pull on her shoulders.

It's hard not to think that this problem is at least somewhat related to the sheer amount of homework kids are doing after school these days; kids aren't toting trigonometry textbooks to-and-fro for funsies, after all. When schools are all using electronic textbooks in 25 years, the heavy-backpack problem will pretty much solve itself, but is that the be-all end-all solution? As a former teacher of course I don't have blanket anti-homework sentiments; but I do sometimes wonder if there's just too much of it -- and sometimes I don't wonder at all, as in the case of a friend whose kindergartner was coming home with an hour-plus of extra work every weeknight and more for the weekend. Practicing concepts is important, but when you're an elementary or middle-schooler, so is time for play ... especially when premature back pain is thrown into the mix.


Image © Rachel Frank/Corbis

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