Are heavy school backpacks a hazard for kids?

Are bulky backpacks as harmful as parents think? Practical ways to lighten your child’s load.

For high school students, the start of the year usually means a return to learning with a backpack loaded with essentials like a laptop, charger, textbooks and stationery.

Parents are often concerned about the potential physical effects of a full backpack on their child’s neck, shoulders and back – but is there reason for concern?

Experts recommend that, as a rule of thumb, backpacks should weigh no more than ten per cent of a child’s bodyweight.

But a University of Sydney review of studies involving more than 72,000 students found no concrete evidence that backpacks increase the risk of back pain or injury.

“Blaming backpacks for back pain seems to be more of an opinion than it is based on science,” exercise physiologist and spokesperson for Exercise and Sports Science Australia Brendan Mouatt says.

“Our backs are inherently strong and stable but at times, anyone can experience back pain and that’s normal.”

How to lighten your child’s backpack

Nicole Haynes, National Paediatric Chair for the Australian Physiotherapy Association, says if children say they are struggling to carry their backpacks, parents can help by ensuring they are carrying and packing their bag as efficiently as possible.

Spread the weight of the load

“Wear a backpack across both shoulders – carrying the weight on one shoulder may become uncomfortable within a short distance,” Nicole says.

“Make sure it’s firmly fitting – the closer the backpack is to the body, the easier it is to carry the load.

“Adjust the backpack straps so the bag sits firmly and doesn’t hang down below the buttocks,” she adds.

Smarter way to pack your school bag

Nicole suggests packing heavier items, like a laptop, closest to the body and lighter items to the outside.

Also, take only what you need.

“Look at the load in the backpack – encourage students to carry what they need for the day and to leave things in the locker or at home,” Brendan says.

Take a lighter lunch

Think about the size of your child’s water bottle and lunch box.

Can they take a smaller water bottle and refill it during the day?

Choose lighter items

If it’s time to buy a new laptop, choose a lighter weight model with good battery power so your child won’t need to carry the charger.

Or keep a spare charger in their school locker for when they need it.

Written by Sarah Marinos.