Experts say once children get to middle school, the weight of their backpacks compared to their body size can fatigue them and overwork their lower extremities.
“When you have an 11- or 12-year-old girl with 12 pounds added to her back, for example, her hips and shoulders will ache,” said Steven Shapiro, chairman of Pediatrics at Abington Memorial Hospital.
“Even though they may get stronger over time, their bones and body will hurt more than they should,” he said.
The added weight forces young students to lean forward at an angle just to balance themselves, he said.
It’s uncomfortable for an otherwise healthy child, but for those who have or are at risk for scoliosis or flat feet, heavy backpacks worsen the condition, he said.
Consider also that carrying so much weight makes it hard for a growing person to move around. That causes safety issues trying to check for cars to safely cross the street.
Additionally, “Bags with tight, narrow straps can also dig into the shoulders and even cause damage to nerves and inhibit circulation, often leading to tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms and hands,” Shapiro said.
So how can parents help?
One answer is a backpack on rollers, but they’re “not cool,” he said. Conversely, shoulder bags may be stylish, but make the problem even worse because all the weight is hung on one side of the body.
More practical solutions include:
- Backpacks that have two wide, padded shoulder straps to spread out the weight of heavy textbooks and supplies over a larger area.
- Students should keep the straps tight and wear both straps.
- Pack heavier items at the bottom and in the center of the backpack.
- Be sure your kids bend their knees whenever picking up a full backpack to prevent further strain on their backs and arms.
- Consider buying another set of books for your child to use at home.
- Advocate with your school district to hasten the transition to online textbooks.