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Impact of heavy backpacks on school children



THE sight of school children dragging the weight of school bags, lunch boxes and sometimes, homework folders tucked under their arms is quite common in Nigeria. It is also common to see school children almost bent over under the weight of their school bags, or constantly struggling to keep the bag straps on their shoulders and aligned with their steps.
Last week, I was coming back from my regular morning exercise and met a group of children going to school, (seems they are siblings). The older ones were some steps ahead of the younger one, whose heavy school bag was neatly strapped on his tender shoulders, alongside his lunch box. While trying to meet up with the speed of his older siblings, he fell in the process.
He fell face down with his school bag still on his back and his lunch box fell aside and his lunch littered the ground. I rushed to help the little child get back on his feet, trying to take off his school bag first. I was shocked at the heavy weight of the school bag. Out of curiosity, I opened the bag to know what could make the school bag of a child of say seven or eight years be this heavy.
To my uttermost surprise, its contents were about 10 text books, 13 notebooks, mathematical sets, crayons and lots of other educational materials. And I wondered aloud, what would a child of age seven or eight possibly be doing with all these books in a school session that he is going to spend nothing more than eight or nine hours per day?
Are parents not bothered about the eventual consequences of these heavy loads on their children? Do these children make use of all these books in a day? If no, what is the essence of making them carry books they don’t need? Speaking on the issue, Nwadike Sylvester, a Pediatrician with a private hospital said, “when you picture a child heading off to school, one of the first things that catch your eyes is their backpack.
It is an essential piece of equipment that no young student can do without. Considering the amount of books and supplies that are carried in these bags, it is unsurprising that they can have some significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of these young children. A child wearing a backpack incorrectly or wearing a backpack that is too heavy for him or her can be contributing risk factors for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain, especially in the lower back.
A heavy backpack can pull on the neck muscles contributing to headache, shoulder pain, lower back pain and neck and arm pain. Not just this, carrying backpacks over one shoulder is a wrong practice as it makes muscles strain. The spine leans to the opposite side, stressing the middle back, ribs, and lowers back more on one side than the other and this muscle imbalance can cause muscle strain, muscle spasm, and back pain.
Heavy school bags are also one of the major reasons of cervical and lumbar pains. The posture of the body also gets affected to a great extent which in the long term develops imbalances in the body and affects the health of the nervous system. For these reasons, great care should be taken when deciding what backpack a child wears. Although children can be picky with what they wear, there are a number of factors that should always be taken into consideration when selecting a backpack.
The most important thing is that a backpack should fit, in the same way that a new pair of shoes should be comfortable to wear. A good backpack should not be wider or longer than the torso of the wearer, and should be from around two inches below the shoulder blades to around waist level. Again, backpacks should not be too heavy, ideally weighing not more than 10 per cent of a wearer’s body weight.
Parents should ensure that their children’s backpacks only contain the items they need for the day, thereby, making use of storage spaces both at home and at school. Parents should also make sure that weights are distributed wisely as well, positioning heavier items next to the back and lighter items in outer compartments.
Aside from routinely weighing or checking a child’s backpack, there are a number of signs that can suggest that a backpack is too heavy for a child. Signs like changes in posture when the bag is being worn; having difficulty with putting the bag on or taking it off, pain, numbness and red marks associated with wearing the backpack all signify that a bag is too heavy for a child”.
“For Mrs Uchechi Catherine, a nurse, “there are increasing concerns among parents and health workers about schoolchildren carrying backpack loads that are more than the recommended limits of 10 to15% of their body weights. Heavy backpacks lead to abnormal changes in the musculoskeletal system of the body.
Such changes include body discomfort, fatigue, abnormal postures, pain and impairments of vital organs` functions.The ages between 12 and 14 are critical age for spinal development, as well as muscle development. But then, the spine consists of two muscular muscles that hold the column together.
There is one on the left and another on the right side of the body, either of which can weaken the other, or that can lead to scoliosis – the bending of the spine. As a remedy, parents and teachers should watch what children put in their bags, to ensure that the contents are not more than the recommended weight for the weight of the carrier.
Where a child develops any back complications, a doctor should properly evaluate him or her so that the child gets physiotherapy to rehabilitate the muscles and correct the posture and backache. More so, parents should also ensure that their children’s school bags are well-padded and as much as possible; they should go for the bags that are double strapped. Parents should also ensure that their children’s school bags are evenly balanced, not hanging from one shoulder only:”.
Mrs Joy Nwigbo said, “Parents can play a major role in keeping a check on the weight of their children’s school bags. They need to ensure that their kids pack their bags as per the time-table. Not only this, the size and shape of the bag should be taken into consideration while buying a new one, making sure that it matches the child.
Teachers should be made to make the time table accordingly, so that pupils and students will come to school only with the books they need for the day. Parents should take strict actions against schools demanding students to bring the entire books in the syllabuses every day. Carrying heavy bags on shoulders to school is not at all good for overall health of children. Parents and teachers have to put heads together to come up with a compromise that will make the children come to school with only the books and materials they need for the day”.

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