Whittier Elementary School hosted a backpack weigh-in with about 100 students on Sept. 21. The weigh-in coincided with National Backpack Awareness Day, which was last Wednesday. Injuries related to students carrying overloaded backpacks and book bags account for approximately 4,928 emergency room visits each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

According to guidelines from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), students should carry no more 10-15 percent of their body weight.

An 80-pound student with, say, a backpack weighing 20 pounds would carry 25 percent of their body weight, which is too heavy, experts say. The percentage is found by dividing the backpack weight by the student’s weight after weighing the student and backpack separately.

The average student, according to the AOTA, carries a backpack weighing almost one-fourth of his or her own body weight. Three out of 10 students typically carry backpacks weighing up to one-third of their body weight at least once a week.

Concern over backpack safety has resulted in some school districts, including in New Hampshire and Michigan, limiting the use of backpacks in schools.

The fourth and fifth grade students participating at Whittier last Thursday mostly weighed in within the prescribed percentage. But a few students were carrying as much as 26 percent of their body weight.

Kathryn Henry, a District 97 occupational therapist, said research shows students should use both straps for a backpack (not just one slung over a shoulder), and that the backpack shouldn’t drop below the waist.

Students, Henry said, tend to choose and wear their book bags based more on style than safety.

“If they do use two straps on the backpack, they wear them very loose and let it hang below their waist because that’s how they wear them. They think it looks cool, but that can also cause pain,” she said.

For a single-strap bag, students should alternate from shoulder to shoulder when carrying a book bag, Henry said, adding that students can get back and shoulder pains by having to hunch over or lean to one side to compensate for the heavy weight.

She said teachers, parents and students are figuring out how to lighten the loads.

“It’s getting the adults to think about it, and the students to think about ‘Do I really have to take three books home tonight or can I just take the one book home?’ and not having to carrying everything they own in a book bag,” Henry said.

Whittier parent Bernadette Diaz, who has a third- and fifth-grader at Whittier, volunteered at last Thursday’s weigh-in.

Diaz said her daughter carries not only books but her lunch and water bottle in her backpack, along with having to carry her violin for music class. She said her daughter has complained about pain in her shoulder and back.

“My daughter was carrying the one-strap thing, and she came home saying, ‘Mom, my back is killing me.’ Then we realized it was the kind of backpack where you could pull out the straps and wear it that way because it was bothering her shoulder.”

Diaz, who has also has a middle school seventh-grader, said backpack safety is a concern for parents of middle and high schools students as well.

“I live on a street where [high school kids] walk past my house, and they’re loaded down,” she said. “My son is in the seventh grade and his backpack is very heavy. The textbooks are large, and they’re heavy, and my kids have to walk four blocks to get [to Whittier], so that’s a heavy load for them. I don’t remember carrying that much stuff.”

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