Backpack Burden

Some kids' backpacks are no lightweights. But how heavy is the load compared to their body weight - that's what matters. A team from Consumer Reports set out to find out, visiting three schools and weighing 56 students in all. First with their backpacks on, then again with their backpacks off.

Consumer Reports medical adviser, Dr. Orly Avitzur: "The American Academy of Pediatrics says that a loaded backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child's total weight. But Consumer Reports recommends staying closer to 10 percent."

So, how did the students fare? The fourth-graders fell within the recommended range. So did the second-graders, with backpacks averaging less than 10 percent of their body weight. But the sixth-graders shoulder a bigger burden. Their backpacks averaged more than 17 percent of their body weight. Dr. Avitzur warns, "Carrying around this type of weight can lead to back problems." One boy said he had visited a doctor because of back pain from his backpack weight. And many students said they walked to school, although at least one boy said his mother drove him because his backpack was just too heavy to carry. Consumer Reports says in 2004 about 7,600 hospital-treated injuries in the U.S. were associated with backpacks, and the most vulnerable age group was 9- to 16-year-olds.

In addition to keeping your eye on how much your child is carrying, Consumer Reports' tester Alex Willen says pick a backpack that's the right size for your child and encourage them to wear it correctly to prevent injury. Willen suggests, "You want to make sure that they're wearing both shoulder straps, and the backpack is close to the body. When you look to purchase one, you want to make sure that they have contoured, padded shoulder straps, which soften the load of the backpack."

Who know? This just might be one of the most important lessons your child learns this year. It's certainly one that will benefit them for a lifetime.

When shopping for a backpack, it's also a good idea to get one that's waterproof. And reflective trim adds a measure of safety, especially in the fall and winter when kids might be going to or from school in near darkness.


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