In the UK, half-term is over and the kids are going back to school – and carting my daughter’s schoolbag and gym bag in for her this morning reminded me of the warnings that growing numbers of children are developing irreversible back deformities because of the weight of the bags they carry to school.
A study by the organization BackCare last year noted that half of all schoolchildren report some kind of back pain by the age of 14, and doctors have pointed to an increase in the case of spinal abnormalities, including scoliosis. And one of the major contributory factors is those increasingly heavy bags – which are apparently up to double the size of those carried just a decade ago.
While children risk long-term, perhaps permanent, damage if they regularly carry more than 15% of their body weight over their shoulders, BackCare reckons many are carrying as much as 20%, with a significant number carrying 25% of their own body weight to and from school.
And that will have long term consequences for a LOT of pupils.
Give a child a large sports bag – and they’ll fill it, not least because, in their eyes, filling a bag with everything they might possibly need that week is a lot easier than thinking each morning about what they’ll need that day. Like a snail, if they carry their entire home on their backs, they’ll forget nothing. And when parents are squeezing in extra sport, extra music, extra drama on top of the curriculum, then that’s more books, more clothes, more equipment on top of an already hefty burden:
- Textbooks: 8lb
- Laptop: 8lb
- Lunchbox and water: 3lb
- Notebooks: 1lb
- Pencil case: 1lb
- PE kit and trainers 3lb
- Phone, wallet/purse/mobile phone: 1lb
And there’s usually more – the extra book, the musical instrument, and so on. They can easily be carrying 2 stone a day. And often over one shoulder (always carry a backpack over both shoulders!)
The answer is so obvious, it barely needs stating – kids need to carry less. Just to take what they need for that day. The answer to that isn’t to take stuff out, but to help them put it in. A child’s paranoia about forgetting something fuels the ‘take everything’ process. If a parent or teacher can help a pupil self-organize better to take only what is the need, then they will be more mentally self-sufficient – and less prone to long-term damage.