With school children across New Zealand gearing up to begin the year, parents around the country find themselves knee-deep in the back to school chores. Stationary purchasing, book-covering, last minute uniform updates. Then there’s the question of what to put in the lunchbox….

Amongst all the chaos and excitement, We recommend that all parents take a moment to observe and take a look at just how heavy their kid’s backpacks are.

“There is ongoing concern regarding the weight of children’s’ schoolbags and the negative consequences of such heavy loads on the developing spine,” reported the study from Trinity Health Sciences in Dublin (1)

According to a recently published report by the Chiropractors Association of Australia(7) as many as 90% of Australasian school children may be at risk of spinal injury because of the way and amount they carry in their school bags. The observational survey of school children found 80% of them were wearing overfull, bulging bags and 75% of the children were not using any of the ergonomic features of their bags.(7)

“Putting too much stress on a child’s back at such an important stage of growth and development will result in serious problems immediately and later on in life”.(1)

Perhaps the most alarming discovery as a parent of young school children, was that those in junior school were carrying the heaviest backpacks, with their bags weighing as much as 17% of their body weight.(4)

There is particular concern for the junior students in secondary schools, as the spine is at a critical stage of development in children between 12 – 14 years of age. This is also the stage at which the bag weight to body weight ratio is likely to be high as some students are still quite small but carry loads similar to larger and older children.”

It is generally recommended that children carry no more than 10% of their body weight in their school bags. When a heavy weight (such as a book-stuffed backpack) is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight’s force can pull a child backwards. To compensate a child may bend forward at the hips or arch the back which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally.

Concerned parents should remember however, that compared with other types of bags, backpacks are, despite potential problems, usually the best choice for children. When used correctly, the strongest muscles in the body, the back and abdominal muscles, support the weight of the packs. If not too heavy and if they are used correctly the weight is then evenly distributed across the body.

Our Role As Parents

Poor posture is big issue. Unfortunately teaching our children good postural habits requires a certain amount of ‘nagging’ so that our children learn to wear and pack their backpacks correctly. Kids who wear their backpacks over just one shoulder, because it looks ‘cooler’ or feels easier, end up leaning to one side to offset the additional weight. With time these kids are likely to develop lower and upper back pain, and strain their neck and shoulders. It’s important to help them understand the impact of not carrying their school bag correctly and insist they use the waist belt, if their bag has one.

Backpack / Schoolbag Safety Tips

  • Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. A heavier backpack will cause your child to bend forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back, rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.
  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy and appropriately sized – no wider than the child’s chest
  • Wide, padded straps are very important. Non-padded straps are uncomfortable and can dig into your child’s shoulders.
  • Use both shoulder straps – never sling the pack over one shoulder. Lugging the backpack around by one strap can cause the disproportionate shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms, as well as low-back pain.
  • The straps should be shortened until the bottom of the backpack is just above the child’s waist, and not sitting on their buttocks. The backpack should lie flat on the child’s back.
  • The backpack should never hang more than 10cm’s below the waistline. A backpack that hangs too low increases the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
  • Use waist straps. (If the bag has them)
  • A backpack with individualised compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively. Make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry-and the heavier the backpack will be.
  • If the backpack is still too heavy, talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if your child could leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter hand-out materials or workbooks. – use school lockers.


[1] Schoolbag weight and the effects of schoolbag carriage on secondary school students. Dockrella, C. Kanea, E. O’Keeffea a School of Physiotherapy, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin,

[2] Perceived school bag load, duration of carriage, and method of transport to school are associated with spinal pain in adolescents: an observational study. Clare Haselgrove, Leon Straker, Anne Smith, Peter O’Sullivan, Mark Perry, Nick Sloan 2011 Australian Journal of Physiotherapy Volume 54, Issue 3, 2008, Pages 193–200

[3] Backpack as a daily load for schoolchildren. Negrini S Carabolona R and Sibilla P. The Lancet. 354 (1999) 1974.

[4] Influence of load and carrying methods on gait phase and ground reactions in children’s stair walking. Hong Y and Li J. Gait and Posture. 22 (2005) 63-68.

[5] The weight of schoolbags and the occurrence of neck, shoulder, and back pain in young adolescents. vanGent, Dols J DeRover, Hira Sing, and De Vet.Spine. 28 (2003) 916-921.

[6] The association of backpack use and back pain in adolescents. Sheir-Neiss G Kruse R Rahman T Jacobson L and Pelli J. Spine. 28 (2003) 922-930.

[7] Chiropractors’ Association of Australia ‘Backpack use among Australian School Children’ Fact Sheet