Heavy school bags take toll on children’s backs

heavy-school-bagsThe Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) has been calling on the education authorities for some years now to address the problem of heavy school bags.

In this University Putra Malaysia study carried out by Tamrin SBM and his colleagues, it was found that as high as 58.3% of the schoolchildren studied reported having low back pain associated with carrying heavy school bags.

The researchers postulated that the high prevalence of low back pain associated with heavy loads can be linked to the fact that most of the schoolchildren who were studied were carrying a school bag with a weight of 15% of their own body weight. This is the upper limit recommendation advocated by many health practitioners. The study also showed that female children were less efficient in carrying loads on their backs. Also, younger schoolchildren’s ability to carry loads was found to be less efficient, in terms of energy used, compared to older children who tended to use their muscles more efficiently to carry loads on their backs. These findings were consistent with the results of other authors who stated that younger children do have a problem carrying heavy school bags.

Overall, it was concluded that there was a high prevalence of low back pain among the younger school children and this pointed towards the need to evaluate whether young children should be carrying any load at all, let alone such heavy school bags, as they face the risk of lower back pain in the future.

A few years back, CAP conducted a random survey on over 200 primary school children. Our results showed that about 40% of them were carrying schoolbags that were over 20%, or over a fifth, of their own body weights. Some guidelines recommend that such weights should not exceed 10% of a child’s weight.

Excessive and uneven loads have been linked to an increased risk of back trouble and deformation of the spine. Stresses from these excess weights may cause harm and may adversely affect the growth of the musculo-skeletal system.

CAP once again calls on the Education Ministry to urgently look into the problem of heavy school bags. The adverse health effects are potentially serious – not only exerting immediate effects on children, but they may also be setting the stage where these future young adults have to bear a host of chronic back problems.