Grand Strand Health & Wellness - August 2019

August 2019

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By an Overly Heavy Backpack A ugust marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year for most kids and parents. A new school year brings with it a lot to look forward to, and it’s no different for my kids. My youngest daughter, Keilah, will be going into the

Up until a few years ago, I would speak at schools, to educators, and to county nurses at length about this problem. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do so recently due to time constraints. That being said, just because I haven’t visited schools to present on the health risks posed by overly heavy backpacks does not mean the risks disappeared. In 2004, 200 New England school nurses were surveyed, and 66% reported they had seen students with back pain or injuries that came from carrying a backpack that was too heavy. In January of

second grade, and she’s hoping to get a part in the play her new teacher, Mrs. Washington, puts on every year. My sons are looking forward to football season. And, of course, my wife Shelby has been working tirelessly to prepare her first grade classroom for her latest class of students. On the first day of school, your child will likely leave with a backpack filled with their new school supplies and return with that backpack filled with textbooks and planners from their teachers. But one thing that you might not consider is the strain that an overly heavy backpack can have on a child or teenager’s back. According to the National Safety Council, a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 5–10% of their body weight. Yet every year, millions of students carry backpacks with far too much weight, and often wear them incorrectly.

2005, another report found that among 1,263 randomly selected students ages 12–18, those who carried their backpacks asymmetrically, or with only one strap over their shoulder, were prone to experience increased dorsal and lower back pain. These are far from the only two studies out there that recommend students carry their backpacks correctly and at a reasonable weight. It is now widely accepted that wearing a backpack incorrectly and putting too much weight in it can lead to conditions like scoliosis, or sideways curvature of the spine. I would often speak specifically at elementary and middle schools because until students are about 16 years old, their spines can still self-correct. After that, it’s much harder for a teenager’s posture to get back to normal on its own, even if they start carrying their backpacks correctly.

As you send your kids back to school this fall, remember a few of these tips about backpack safety: When shopping for a backpack, look for one with an ergonomic design, padded shoulder straps, hip and chest belts for weight distribution, and multiple pockets to evenly distribute the weight of their school supplies. Encourage your kids to use both straps when they carry their backpack, and make sure they’re not weighing it down with too many books and other supplies. The beginning of the school year is an exciting time — don’t let your kids be weighed down by an overly heavy backpack.

“The beginning of the school year is an exciting time — don’t let your kids be weighed down by an overly heavy backpack.”

–Dr. Chris Garner

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