Background The American Society of Radiologists has published concern regarding the incidence of degenerative spine disease in older children and young adolescents (Smith, 2003), and issued recommendations that children's backpacks should weigh ≥15% of their body weight. Our research question addressed knowledge of and compliance with this limit amongst children at the start of the school year and Scouts on a hiking trip.
Method A class of school children (n=32, age 13.2 to 14 years) were studied in the second week of the fall term and again 8 weeks later. A scout troop (n=24, age 12.9 to 16.7 years) and their 18 year old leaders (4) were also studied mid way into a hiking/camping trip when boarding a plane with all their gear. Data collected included age, ethnicity, gender, awareness of a weight advisory, weight with and without backpack (school - digital bathroom scale: Scouts - airline luggage scale) pack contents, and any back symptoms.
Results The results indicate that the adolescent males were carrying packs that ranged from 23-30% of their body weight, and 64% reported symptoms (neck, and shoulder aches, and low back pain) as a result of carrying their gear. Amongst the school children 19% had packs ≥15% of their body weight (range 15-16%). One child reported shoulder pain. Only 17% of school children used both straps to carry their packs. 83% of those with packs ≥15% were of Asian decent (5 males/1 female) and carried a computer. None of the school children or scouts was aware of the recommended weight limit for backpacks.
Conclusion In our sample the incidence of school children with packs greater than the recommended weight (19%) raises concern and warrants guidelines based on further study. Packs are worn daily to school and weights could increase as the school year progress. Lack of awareness of recommendations is an issue. Guidelines could include distributing weight correctly by wearing pack straps on both shoulder, and carrying heavy items, such as a computer, separately.
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