With school children across Australia gearing up to begin the year I find myself, like so many parents, knee-deep in book-covering, pencil cases and lunchboxes.
I’ve also renewed my love affair with my ‘labeller’, but that’s another story! Whilst reassessing uniforms and shoes however, I realised just how overwhelming pre-school purchases can become and thought you may be interested in some recently released information on the humble school bag…
According to a recently published report by the CAA1, as many as 90% of Australasian school children may be risk of spinal injury because of the way and amount they carry in their school bags. The observational survey of 346 school children in Adelaide found 80% of them were wearing overfull, bulging bags and 75% of the children were not using any of the ergonomic features of their bags.2 “Putting too much stress on a child’s back at such an important stage of growth and development will result in serious problems immediately and later on in life”.3
Perhaps the most alarming discovery as a parent of young school children, was that those in junior school were carrying the heaviest backpacks, with their bags weighing as much as 17% of their body weight.4 It is generally recommended that children carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in their school bags. When a heavy weight (such as a book-stuffed backpack) is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backwards. To compensate a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally.
Concerned parents should remember however, that compared with shoulder bags, messenger bags or purses, backpacks are, despite potential problems, usually the better choice for children. When used correctly, the strongest muscles in the body, the back and abdominal muscles, support the weight of the packs. If not too heavy and if they are used correctly the weight is then evenly distributed across the body.
If your school doesn’t have a set school bag that you have to purchase, then shop around as not all are created equally. Be mindful to select a lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks). Look for two wide, padded shoulder straps, as straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders. A padded back is also recommended as it not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
I would also recommend picking one that has a waist belt and multiple compartments which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
OUR ROLE AS PARENTS
Poor posture is big issue. Unfortunately teaching our children good postural habits requires a certain amount of ‘nagging’ so that our children learn to wear their backpacks correctly and diligence in coaching them how to carry less and pack their school bags effectively. Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder, because it looks ‘cooler’ or feels somewhat easier, end up leaning to one side to offset the additional weight. With time these children are likely to develop lower and upper back pain and strain their neck and shoulders. Help them understand the long term impact of not carrying their school bag correctly and insist they use the waist belt.
I know there is a lot to think about and organise at this time of year but with wiser choices our children’s spinal health and unhindered growth can be more easily catered for.
Best wishes and a happy and safe return from the holidays!
1–4 : tvnz.co.nz/national news;24/1/2012;CAA;Billy Chow