One out of every four children who carry a backpack to school suffers from back pain because their backpacks are “excessively loaded” with books, water bottles, lunches and other school items. Spanish researchers also found that lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle contributes to childhood back problems.
Researchers at the University of Santiago de Compostel studied over 1400 school children who were 12 to 17 years old and found a quarter of them suffered from back pain which lasted for more than 15 days. The most common problem was scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Back pain was a bigger problem for girls than boys and the risk of pain increased as children grew older. The findings are published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
“The results obtained have strong implications. Many children transport excessively loaded backpacks, an excess which would not be allowed for workers in employment,” wrote lead author Professor Alberto Ruano. “We strongly encourage the medical and educational community to start advising parents and school children about the risks posed by heavy school bags and the fact that this risk can be easily reduced.”
The average backpack weighed seven kilos, or nearly 15 and one half pounds.
About two thirds of the children (61.4%) carried backpacks to school that weighed more than 10% of their body weight and nearly one in five had packs weighing more than 15%. The authors recommend that children not carry anything that weighs more than 10% of their body weight.
The Spanish study mirrors the results found in a 2004 study by researchers at the University of California at Riverside, which found two out of three children reported back pain from heavy backpacks. 21 percent of those kids had pain that lasted more than six months.
Why are today’s backpacks so heavy? One reason is that books are heavier. A textbook from 40 years ago weighed less than 2 pounds. Today’s books weigh about 5 pounds each. Many kids also have to carry materials to school that used to be routinely stored in school lockers. Some schools have removed lockers for security reasons. Finally, today’s kids simply have more “stuff” to carry, from cell phones and laptops to CDs and water bottles.