Back when computers were the reserve of the rich and famous and we used to handwrite our essays, it was not uncommon in our school to see children carrying enormously heavy bags stuffed with their work as well as their text books. Indeed I recall becoming so paranoid that my A-Level English coursework would somehow be destroyed or stolen in some random act of fate that I took to carrying my entire lever arch file filled with the work all day at school. I left school with an A in English but a pronounced hump.
Research this week has suggested that children – teenagers in particular – risk long-term problems with their backs because of their need to carry heavy bags at school all day. No change there, then.
On average, a schoolbag apparently weighs between ten and fifteen per cent of an average teenager’s body weight, and on top of that they don’t have the muscle strength to support that because of their increasingly sedentary lifestyles at home.
The researchers studied 1,400 children aged 12 to 17 and weighed them with and without their schoolbags. They looked at the children’s lifestyle, height and any health problems.
Most (90%) carried bags weighing more than 7kg; just over half carried bags that weighed more than 10% of their bodyweight, and a fifth carried bags that weighed 15% of their bodyweight. A quarter of the children reported having suffered back pain for at least 15 days in total during the preceding year.
Seventy per cent of those children who were diagnosed with an actual back condition were found to have scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, though there was no data on whether this was a pre-existing condition that the children would have had anyway or whether there was a causal link with the bag carrying.
The results showed that girls were more likely to suffer back problems than boys, and the older the child, the more likely they were to have problems.
The message from the authors is for parents to make sure that their children are not carrying more than they absolutely need to, just because the child can’t be bothered to pack and re-pack their bags on a daily basis for that day’s lessons, or because the child is anxious about forgetting vital books. Also, parents should speak to the school if they’re concerned, about getting lockers installed so that books can be left there rather than carried around the building. Finally, if your child carries a bag to school, make sure it’s a backpack that is actually worn on the back and not over the shoulder – you may be fighting a losing battle there, since it’s so uncool to wear one’s backpack on one’s actual back, but you should still try. You’re a parent, that’s your job.