Bags — a weighty topic

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
A new school year and a new job - the afterschool run one day a week. And always the request to "please carry my bag", writes Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
With some redesign and enhancement, the day pack of my youth has, in recent years, become the schoolbag of preference for pre-schoolers to tertiary students, not to mention city commuters and day-tripping tourists. And these days they come in all sizes, colours, fabrics, and shapes. A backpack is certainly an ideal and ergonomically sensible way to carry stuff.

But the weight! Throw in a bottle of drink and a laptop and youngsters could be carrying up to 15kg.

Professional opinion is that they shouldn’t be carrying more than 10% of their body weight on a daily basis and the pack should be carried on their back as it was designed to be. Not in one hand or slung over one shoulder.

If it’s not being worn correctly on their back, the result can be bad posture, shoulder, neck and back pain, numbness in hands and arms and even permanent nerve damage. Since youngsters’ bones and connective tissues are still growing, the damage can be long term, causing serious problems later in life.

The problem seems to be universal. Italian researchers found lower back pain in children was fast approaching that seen in adults and that heavy schoolbags were the culprit. The Indian Academy of Paediatrics has discussed low back pain being a common problem in 34% of students. Closer to home, the Australian Chiropractors Association cautioned that parents are sentencing their children to life-long health risks if they select poorly designed schoolbags.

Experts seem to agree that the best schoolbag is a backpack style no wider than a youngster’s chest, with broad, padded, adjustable shoulder straps set so that at least 80% of the weight sits squarely on the hips. The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the bag is just above the child's waist, and not sitting on their buttocks.

It should be packed so that the centre of gravity is the same as the child’s, with heavy gear packed close to the child’s back. Any weight that pulls them backwards forces them to hunch forward or arch their back. Multiple compartments will help with distributing the weight throughout the pack.

A padded back will help protect them from the sharp corners of heavy objects and an adjustable hip belt will keep the pack close to the body.

Most importantly, the load shouldn’t exceed 10-15% of their body weight.

A school backpack is one item we shouldn’t buy with a view to our youngster growing into it.


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