Pain in the Backpack
How heavy backpacks are weighing down today's kids.
Long-Term Outlook Unclear continued...
"The truth is that we don't have a clue if backpacks cause [permanent]
damage," says David Skaggs, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopedic
surgery at the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los
Angeles. "The scientific studies that would establish a cause-and-effect
relationship simply haven't been done."
But Jerome McAndrews, M.D., a chiropractic physician and
spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association, says backpacks may cause
disability later in life.
"Children are carrying far too much weight in their backpacks and they
are carrying them fashionably but improperly, slung over one shoulder," he
says. "The [musculo-skeletal] system has limited rejuvenation
possibilities. We're concerned that the damage that is inflicted now will be
showing up 30 years later in even more serious back injuries."
Solutions and Guidelines
According to guidelines from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and
the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), students should carry no
more than 10% of their body weight in a backpack. (See table: "How Much Is
Too Much?") The backpacks should have two adjustable and padded shoulder
straps to equalize the weight and prevent shoulder, neck, and back problems.
Belts around the waist can also help distribute the weight properly. Although
backpacks slung casually over one shoulder may be fashionable, this posture
puts further stress on the back and spinal cord.
Concerned about students carrying 20, 30, even 50 pounds in backpacks,
school systems across the United States -- in New Hampshire, Michigan, Florida,
and Nevada, to name just a few states -- have considered limiting the use of
backpacks in school.
Minnehaha Academy, a private school in Minneapolis, banned backpacks in its
middle school in 1998 with surprisingly little reaction despite their
popularity among students.
"There was less resistance than I thought there would be," Dean
Erickson, the middle-school principal, says. "Kids of that age have a herd
mentality. When none of them could carry a backpack, it became a
And although some students may consider them dorky at first, another
solution is to switch to backpacks on wheels. Karen Jacobs, Ed.D., Professor of
Occupational Therapy at Boston University and AOTA president, says that after
discovering her two teenagers were carrying backpacks weighing 20 and 40 pounds
apiece, she persuaded them to give wheels a try.