6, 8, sometimes even 10 kilograms may not seem like a lot of weight when you’re a full grown adult doing some training at the gym. But imagine being a child, having to carry a weight that is over 10- 20% of your own body weight, every single day (ouch). Unfortunately, this heavy and painful burden is a common experience faced by schoolchildren, which of course, does not come without consequences.
Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HBD) acknowledged this recurring problem by coming up with a guideline that school bags should not be heavier than 15% of the child’s body weight, which means a child that weighs 30 kg should not be carrying a school bag weighing more than 4.5 kg. So what happens when it exceeds this limit?
Posture and Permanent Health Problems with Heavy Backpacks
The bodies of these kids shift backwards as a result of carrying heavy school bags, where the center of gravity changes. They are prone to falls, especially on occasions when they climb stairs, losing proper footing on the ground. These kids tend to lean their heads forward and round their shoulders to counter the weight of the bag. This causes the natural curve of their lower spine to flatten and their upper back to over-curve. Numerous studies have shown that this has led to back arches, pains and even permanent spinal deformities in children whose spines are still developing.
Not to mention that poorly designed backpacks that are poorly designed may exert greater stress on the child’s back. For example, those with narrow straps can pinch their nerves and cut off blood circulation or those without waist belts, which are most, are poorer in distributing the weight of the backpack.
So, What’s the Remedy?
While countries like India have set weight limits for school bags based on the different age groups within the school, not much has been done at the school level in Singapore. Not to fret, there are other ways to help alleviate the pain your kids are experiencing with heavy bags and aid in stimulating healthy growth of their spine.
What to look out for when buying Backpacks
There are a variety of backpacks out there, but here are the features you should look out for a good quality backpack that could ease the burden for your children. One of them would be to find a suitable fit based on their height, the base of the bag shouldn’t fall below the child’s waist, a backpack that is too low can pull on the shoulders harder. Another would be to find bags with wide, padded straps that can be adjusted as they help distribute the weight of the bag more evenly across the shoulder. It’s a similar concept to arch support, that will be explained later on. The bag should be able to be adjusted to fit closely to the body to ensure stability. Finally, look for bags with different compartments and compartment sizes, so that they can hold heavy items like textbooks in place and prevent these items from shifting around in the bag, avoiding the shift of the child’s center of gravity.
Consider White School Shoes (with Arch Support)
Just because schools have stricter rules to abide by for uniforms, doesn’t mean that kids have to sacrifice their comfort and health. Even if wearing white school shoes is a must, perhaps wearing comfortable walking shoes with arch support can help ease any foot pain, heel pain and even back pain. This is because arch support helps with encouraging the natural shape of the feet that distributes the weight of the body evenly, balancing the center of gravity and reducing the stress on the lower back. Which is important especially for children with flat feet or over arched feet. Overall, it comes down to getting comfortable shoes or bags to alleviate any burden that the kids carry, because when their health is being prioritized, performing well in school would follow.
India banning heavy school bags - https://thewire.in/education/to-reduce-burden-on-students-centre-fixes-weight-of-schoolbags https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/11/28/india-bans-homework-heavy-schoolbags-prevent-spinal-damage/ https://scroll.in/latest/903556/no-homework-for-students-of-class-1-and-2-weight-of-school-bags-capped-at-1-5-kg-says-hrd-ministry
Effect of asymmetrical backpack load on spinal curvature in school children - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270514753_Effect_of_asymmetrical_backpack_load_on_spinal_curvature_in_school_children
School backpacks: it's more than just a weight problem - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20075526/#:~:text=Pain%20attributed%20to%20backpack%20use,significantly%20associated%20with%20reported%20symptoms.
The effect of school bag design and load on spinal posture during stair use by children - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51818714_The_effect_of_school_bag_design_and_load_on_spinal_posture_during_stair_use_by_children#:~:text=Our%20results%20showed%20that%20symmetry,supporting%20side%20was%20significantly%20increased.
Association of relative backpack weight with reported pain, pain sites, medical utilization, and lost school time in children and adolescents - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17430435/#:~:text=Greater%20relative%20backpack%20weight%20is,time%2C%20and%20greater%20chiropractic%20utilization.
Influence of the weight of a school backpack on spinal curvature in the sagittal plane of seven-year-old children - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26413545/#:~:text=Conclusions%3A%20Wearing%20a%20backpack%20heavier,vertical%20position%20of%20the%20sacrum.