December 5, 2005

Heavy, poorly positioned backpacks hard on kids

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The average backpack load of a
typical U.S. middle-schooler is too heavy and should be reduced
for comfort and safety, a University of California, San Diego
School of Medicine-based team concludes in a report released

The researchers warn that excessive pressure on the
shoulder from weighty backpacks may lead to shoulder pain, and
an uneven backpack load may lead to low back pain.

Brandon Macias, a principal investigator for the study,
told Reuters Health: "Based on this study and recent
unpublished data, we have four recommendations -- backpacks
should be positioned high on the back, backpack straps should
be over both shoulders, weight in the backpacks should be
minimized, and backpacks should have wide straps."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that
nearly 7,500 school children are seen in emergency rooms each
year due to injuries related to backpacks or book bags, the
team reports in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent

With the help of ten 13-year-old students (five girls and
five boys), Macias and his colleagues looked at backpack weight
and how it is distributed with regard to shoulder and back
pain. They fitted each child's backpack with pressure sensors
on the shoulder straps. The children wore standard identical
backpacks first carrying 10 percent of their body weight, then
20 percent and finally 30 percent of their body weight.

The researchers noted an increase in pain levels with an
increase in backpack weight. Specifically, pressures exerted on
the shoulder at backpack loads of 20 percent body weight were
enough to reduce normal skin and muscle blood flow in that
area. Children commonly carry backpack loads equal to 22
percent of their body weight.

"The concern of heavy backpacks and back and shoulder pain
to parents is not new," co-principal investigator Gita Murthy
said in a university statement. "However, the objective data
that we have published is new and important. The more objective
data that the public has, the more educated they become, and
perhaps the more inclined to change the way children carry

The researchers also hope that their findings will
encourage backpack designers and engineers to build better
backpacks with wider straps to help spread the load.

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,
December 2005.