Balancing That Backpack

Show kids how to use them properly before they head off to school

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SATURDAY, Aug. 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Backpacks are a convenient way to lug textbooks and school supplies around.

However, while they are generally considered a good way to carry large loads because they distribute the weight evenly across some of the body's largest muscles, some kids carry far too much weight on their young backs. That, experts say, puts them at risk for muscle and joint injury.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children shouldn't carry more than 10 percent to 20 percent of their body weight in a backpack. So, a 50-pound first grader shouldn't carry more than 5 to 10 pounds, while a 120-pound teen can safely load up to 24 pounds in a backpack.

To reduce the risk of injury further, the AAP recommends always using both shoulder straps and tightening the straps so they fit properly. Keep backpacks organized -- putting the heaviest items at the back and distributing belongings throughout the pack. Children should also stop at their school lockers often so they're only carrying necessary items.

When shopping for a backpack, look for one that has two wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a waist strap. The AAP recommends backpacks be lightweight as well. If your child must carry a lot of books to and from school, a rolling backpack might help.

Encourage children to let you know if they're experiencing any pain from carrying their backpacks and discuss ways to lighten kids' loads with their school officials.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers suggestions for children on why exercise in general is cool.

SOURCES: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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