According the the AOTA, 55% of American students carry backpacks that are heavier than the recommended safe weight of ten percent of their body weight. That means that a 100 pound child should carry a pack that weighs no more than ten pounds. Also important is how a pack is worn. The AOTA recommends that the height of the backpack should extend from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. They also recommended that the backpack should always be worn on both shoulders so the weight is evenly distributed.
Even though these suggestions seem pretty basic and easy to follow, studies have made clear that they are often ignored, to the detriment of children's health. The AOTA reports that a 2007 study found more than 2,000 backpack injuries requiring medical treatment that year and that another study found more than 64 percent of 11-15 year old students reported back pain related to heavy backpacks.
One solution recommended by the Occupational Therapists group is to hold a backpack weigh-in at school, so that students can be made aware of how much they are carrying around. Their website includes permission forms for schools to use to obtain parental consent for this program. They also provide an information sheet for families with tips on how to pack a backpack to avoid injury.
It's not just children who can be injured by carrying bags that are too heavy or carried in the wrong way. If you carry a heavy briefcase or tote you might want to review some guidelines to help avoid doing damage to your own back and shoulders!