Lighten up

KEEP IT LIGHT: Norianna Hanson, a kindergartner at St. Mary Catholic School, hauls her backpack over her shoulder after a long day of school. Local experts believe it's important young children have as little weight in their backpacks as possible to avoid future body pain. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

KEEP IT LIGHT: Norianna Hanson, a kindergartner at St. Mary Catholic School, hauls her backpack over her shoulder after a long day of school. Local experts believe it’s important young children have as little weight in their backpacks as possible to avoid future body pain. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

Local experts advise parents to keep students backpacks light

BIG RAPIDS — In the excitement of a new school year, many parents are busy preparing their children for the first day, getting them into a routine and picking up last-minute school supplies.

An important part of many students shopping list is a backpack.

As parents are shopping with their children for backpacks, the bags with cartoon designs can be fun, but they aren’t always the best for young bodies.

“Parents should pick bags that have wide and padded straps,” said Srikanth Nallan Chakravarathi, a physical therapist at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital. “This will help distribute weight across their shoulders and the straps won’t dig into their muscles.

“It’s also important all students use two-strap backpacks so the weight is distributed across the back evenly,” he added. “You don’t want to bend the spine repeatedly one way.”

Another point Nallan Chakravarathi mentioned is having more compartments in the backpack to help distribute weight around the bag.

“Putting all the supplies in one compartment forces the bag to hang down by the lower back,” he said. “The body leans forward and its not proper posture for walking.”

Nallan Chakravarathi also encourages parents to look for bags with padding in the back so it’s more comfortable when resting on the child’s back.

“If the kids have a bunch of stuff in their bags, it can poke out and hurt their backs so they need padding,” he said.

BACKPACK SAFETY: When it comes to backpacks, it's important parents remind their children to put on both straps of the bag so weight is equally distributed. Pictured is Alec Bollman hugging his grandmother, Nancy after the first day of the 2015-16 school year at St. Mary Catholic School. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

BACKPACK SAFETY: When it comes to backpacks, it’s important parents remind their children to put on both straps of the bag so weight is equally distributed. Pictured is Alec Bollman hugging his grandmother, Nancy after the first day of the 2015-16 school year at St. Mary Catholic School. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

As students begin the school year, local experts believe it’s important parents remember backpacks are a large part of a child’s commute to and from school, and can cause health problems if they are not worn correctly.

“Roughly 10 to 15 percent of a students’ body weight is a common recommendation to how much they can carry on their back,” Nallan Chakravarthi said.

If an elementary student weights about 60 pounds, the most that should be on their back is 9 pounds, including the bag itself.

“It’s far more important parents keep the backpack weight lower in young children because they carry a lot more weight on their backs compared to older kids,” Nallan Chakravarathi said. “Fifteenth percent of a 200-pound athlete allows them to carry more weight than they normally would in their bags, but 15 pounds on a young student is a lot.”

Nallan Chakravarathi also wants to remind parents of young children that the students’ bodies are still growing.

“When they are young, you don’t want to put stress on their bodies as much,” he said.

For elementary students, Delphine Defever, a fourth-grade teacher at Riverview Elementary School, believes there shouldn’t be much in their bags at all.

“My students always have an agenda, a folder with their homework in it and maybe a pencil,” Defever said. “Other than that, the kids shouldn’t be hauling much back and forth from school.”

According to Defever, elementary students in the Big Rapids Public Schools don’t have to take text books home because the school has them available online.

“If the students have internet at home, they don’t even have to worry about hauling text books because they can see them online,” she said. “That can really minimize any harm caused to their backs.”

For younger grades, many teachers advise parents to encourage their children to keep as much as they can at school.

“Always keep as much as you can, like pencils, markers and notebooks at school,” Defever said. “If possible, keep some at home for projects so the kids are not hauling anything back and forth.”

 

Over time, if parents aren’t paying attention to their students’ backpacks, it can result in body pain.

“Several parts of the body could be affected,” Nallan Chakravarathi said. “Kids can get back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain and bad walking patterns could lead to lower body pain. Over time, if the students have bad posture, the spine could end up having poor curvature.”

As students make their way into older grade levels, more classes require textbooks and materials that need to be taken home.

According to Andrea St. John, art teacher at Chippewa Hills High School, students should be taking only what they have to home and nothing extra.

“I see a lot of kids carrying all their books in their bag and they usually don’t need all of them,” she said. “The students should keep what they can in their lockers. Maybe keep some note cards and pencils in their bag and that’s it.”

Many students have no choice but to haul a heavy load to school. For example, band instruments and sports gear are commonly taken back and forth, but there are ways to keep the body safe while also making sure children have what they need for the day.

“If they have to bring a bunch of stuff, split everything into different bags and just carry it,” Nallan Chakravarathi said. “That can help distribute the weight so it’s not all on their back.

“If you buy one good quality bag, it will probably last longer and it will hurt the student less,” he said.

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Posted by Katlyn Vuillemot

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