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How Heavy Is Your Child’s Backpack?


When kids carry more than 10% of their body weight, discomfort can occur

Schools are in session across the U.S. and millions of backpack-carrying students are settling into new routines – some of which include bringing the same items home each afternoon. Think the books and school supplies that your child is carrying in a backpack slung haphazardly across one shoulder are harmless? Think again. Heavy loads can cause discomfort and strain muscles in people of all ages.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 10 percent of the student’s body weight. Making small adjustments to the items students are carrying can go a long way to lessen the load.

“Practicing safe carrying techniques such as only carrying necessary items to and from school, or filling an empty water bottle at school rather than carrying a heavier filled one, can make a difference,” says Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, clinical professor of occupational therapy at Boston University, and an expert on school ergonomics and healthy growth and development of school-age children. “The 10 percent rule is a good one to follow, but the reality is that if it feels too heavy, it probably is.”



Now that school is in session, AOTA recommends taking notice of what items are being carried to and from school and how. The following guidelines can help:
  • Make sure that the backpack that is the correct size for your child.
  • Adjust the height of the backpack so that it extends from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.
  • Make sure your student always wear well-padded shoulder straps on both shoulders so the weight is evenly balanced.
  • When packing the backpack, distribute weight evenly by loading the heaviest items closest to the child’s back and balancing materials so the child can easily stand up straight.
  • Advise the student to wear the hip belt if the backpack has one, to improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Check that your student’s backpack weighs no more than 10% of his or her body weight. If it weighs more, determine what supplies can stay at home or at school each day to lessen the load.
  • If the backpack is still too heavy for the child, consider a book bag on wheels.
“Removing unnecessary items from the backpack should part of every student’s daily routine,” says Jacobs. “Many books, electronic devices, items of clothing, toys, and even supplies can be carried on an as-needed basis. Having an understanding of what’s absolutely needed each day is a great 

Thousands of students, educators, parents, and health professionals will mark National School Backpack Awareness Day on Sept. 26 with backpack weigh-ins, backpack check-ups, activities, and special events. To learn more about National School Backpack Awareness Day, visit www.aota.org/backpack

Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 213,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.

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