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5 Tips for Backpack Safety

If you have a school-age child, chances are good that you have heard them complain about the weight of their textbooks. While this may seem like mere inconvenience, backpacks filled with heavy textbooks could have long-term effects on your child’s shoulders, neck and back.

5 ways to lighten the load on your kids:

•    Pick out a good backpack. Select a backpack that fits your child well. Bigger is not necessarily better: kids tend to fill the space allotted, so the more room there is in the backpack, the more they will carry. Make sure you pick one with wide, padded shoulder straps.

•    Fit it. Have your kid try on the empty pack.  Adjust the shoulder straps, and encourage them to wear both, as lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause a disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, low-back pain, and other injuries.

•    Organize it. Set up the backpack to use all of the compartments. Keep the heaviest items – like textbooks – closest to the body to help evenly distribute the weight. For the sake of safety, position the pointy or bulky objects away from the part that rests on the child’s back.

•    Weigh it. Ideally, your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10-15 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to stoop forward in an attempt to support the additional weight, and could result in long-term injuries and short-term discomfort.

•    Check it. Finally, have your child try on the backpack with an average day’s load of books and supplies. The backpack should never hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. If the backpack is still too heavy, consider talking to your child’s teacher. Consider options like leaving the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter handout materials or workbooks, or downloading e-books for your child to use at home.

The American Association of Pediatrics has some additional back-to-school tips here, or read more about the risk of heavy backpacks here.

Image: Arvind Balaraman /

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