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Updated 03 August 2015

Just how heavy is your child's school bag?

How heavy is your child's school bag? Experts say it shouldn't be more than 10% of their body weight. Any more and they are being set up for spinal problems later in life. Here's what to do.

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The South African Department of Education should follow the example of the Indian state of Maharashtra which has now imposed a regulation that school children are not allowed to carry school bags that exceed 10% of their body weight.

That means a child who weighs 50kgs' bag should be 5kg and no more. 

Carrying heavy weighted and oversized school bags full of heavy books can cause young children to develop serious spinal deformities.

We spoke to Dr Robert Delgado, Wellness expert and chiropractor at Delgado Chiropractic in Sea Point in the Cape, who says  that while the issue has been receiving great attention internationally, such as in the United States and India, it should start to be considered in South Africa too.

He explains that by carrying heavy school bags children are developing forward head posture as they are hinging forward at the hips to compensate for the heavy weight on their back. “This strains the muscles and in turn pushes the body to go into an unnatural posture alignment.”

While children might not show symptoms or experience pain straight away, in the long term they are developing imbalances in the body which can affect the health of the nervous system."

He advises parents to ensure that their kids have high quality back packs, with shoulder pads that are carried on both shoulders and not just one.

“They should also encourage their children to be more active in order to strengthen the spine and have them checked out by a chiropractor on a regular basis.”

ReadBackache? A chiropractor can help

Q&A with Dr Delgado on school backpack best practice

Why should school children’s backpacks not exceed more than 10% of their body weight?

When a backpack is too heavy the body will have to compensate by tilting forward to counter the effects of gravity. This will alter the alignment of the child’s posture and increase the strain on the spine. The weight of the backpack may also damage the muscles of the upper shoulders due to compression.  

What are some of the long and short term effects for children carrying heavy bags throughout their lives? 

What are the short term effects? 

Initial effects include spinal stress and possible pain and discomfort. Damage to the tissues is not always accompanied by conscious pain though which means it can go unnoticed.

ReadHealth checks crucial for school-aged kids

What are the long term effects:

In the long term they may develop imbalances in the postural alignment, which can affect the health of the nervous system. When the alignment of the spine is imbalanced the communication between the brain and the body is negatively effected.

What effect does spinal health have on the brain performance?

Proper alignment and movement of the spine is absolutely essential to brain health. Impulses created by spinal movement charge the brain like a battery. This is why people fell energized after exercise and tired after sitting all day.

If the spine becomes stiff or misaligned the brain will become deficient in these essential impulses resulting in lowered brain and body performance.

What are some of the solutions to address this issue?

Children must use quality backpacks and keep them as light as possible. They must always be worn over both shoulders. Parents should have their children’s spine and postures assessed by a professional to ensure that there are no imbalances that they are unaware of.

Children must stay as active as possible and take regular breaks form sitting to ensure that the spinal supporting muscles are strong and the brain receives the healthy messages from spinal movement.

Advice to parents to ensure that their children do not develop forward head posture: 

The first step is to get your children checked regularly. Spinal problems are similar to tooth decay in that they can develop slowly without any conscious symptoms. Teach your children that movement is a required raw material for health and encourage as much physical activity as possible.

The over-use of tablets and smart phones is a severe stressor that needs to be addressed. If you feel that the backpacks are too heavy communicate with the teachers to see if there is a solution.

Read more:

How your cellphone is breaking your neck

Understanding growth abnormalities in children

When to keep kids home from school

Image: child carrying heavy backpack, Shutterstock

 
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