Heavy backpacks account for serious health issues in teens

‘Backpack safety’ is a new term being coined in the medical industry, forming a new public health concern regarding children and teenagers. An increase in studies and publications on the size and repercussions of the weight of school-bags has brought to light the ramifications for students carrying so much weight on their backs.

Various institutions, namely the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), state that “a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight.” A study by the New York Times (July 21 2009) found that the average 6th graders backpack weighed 18.6 pounds, with the cap at 30 pounds. Following the AAP’s guidelines for backpack weights, and the average weight of a 6th grader (20 pounds), that puts the backpack at a weight just over 20% of their body weight (20.6%). The 30 pounder – 33%. These weights are not healthy for students.

Increased weight in a backpack, even if worn correctly, can cause students to need to lean forward more dramatically to compensate for the added weight caused by papers, textbooks and other school necessities. This creates a permanent, forward leaning physic that can cause physical issues later in life. And if the backpack is imbalanced, even slightly, this can lead to complications that can cause scoliosis. Teens are already at high risk for scoliosis, a deformity of the back in which the spine is twisted out of shape – there are 3 million diagnosed cases per year.

Junior Gabby Macallister, backpack resting against her leg on the floor, commented on the weight, “I think we should use Google Classroom [online teaching website, paperless] more and have less worksheets and binders with us in the bag so that we can reduce the weight of the bag. It’s more helpful if everything is online, and you can’t forget stuff, either because it’s all there.”

Macallister and her fellow students are in the majority – students find backpacks too heavy.

There are various solutions, the most obvious being the use of in school lockers. But in a survey conducted out of ten randomly selected Nantucket High School students, only two responded that they utilized their lockers. Spread out across the entire student body, that’s only a 20% locker use rate. Clearly, using lockers does not solve the issue.

Since the 2010’s, when student backpack weights seemed to be increasing close to exponentially, they’ve actually leveled off. This is due to another solution – the increased use of personal computers and other similar devices like tablets in the classroom. Public schools, Nantucket’s included, have been rapidly moving towards a far more technological classroom. This is good news for the controversy surrounding how much heavy school supplies should be in students’ bags. Though, in actuality, this has only removed about 20%-40% of the heavy papers and binders. The majority of assignments are still paper based, like math and sciences.

Backpacks, though designed to distribute weight and receive stress, are still not perfect. Students are not using lockers and are being weighed down by their bags, though times are changing for the better with the increased use of electronic learning.

Though not an issue of the past, hopefully students will stand taller and bags will lighten in the coming years.