Is Your Child’s School Bag Too Heavy?

Reading Time: 5 minutesIs Your Child’s School Bag Too Heavy? Angela Baura looks at the impact of those heavy school bags that Hong Kong kids lug around.

multiple children holding heavy school bags

According to alarming research by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) around 80 per cent of primary students in Hong Kong carry overweight school bags. The survey covered more than 900 students from schools in 18 districts.

The average weight of school bags was found to be almost 5kg, approximately 64 per cent heavier than the Education Bureau’s recommended standard of 3kg – or 10 per cent of the carrier’s average body weight.

Regular use of an overweight backpack can cause numerous issues in growing children including poor posture, curved spine, and pain in the upper and lower back, shoulders, neck, pelvis and feet, warns Abby Yek Cheung, a physiotherapist at Peak Performance Physiotherapy. And, it’s not just the weight of the bag that causes problems. All too often, children wear their bags incorrectly, she says.

very small boy holding a heavy school bag

How to pick the right backpack for your child

So how do you make sure your child’s school bag is not too heavy? Abby warns against across-the-shoulder or messenger bags, which don’t distribute weight equally. The right backpack is best, she says. Backpacks should be size-appropriate.

“The student should use a child-sized backpack. The width of the backpack should be no wider than the child’s torso.”

Island Christian Academy (IslandCA), a primary school in Sheung Wan, updated its policy on school bags in response to parents’ feedback. Whilst Year 2 to Year 6 students are required to use the school’s backpack, Year 1 students can bring their own smaller backpacks to school.

“Parents shared concerns that the bag was too big for some Year One students. They found it hard to lift their bag; they felt unbalanced and they were worried they might fall backwards. A few children were also getting sore backs and shoulders. The decision was made very easily and quickly to make the change. Parents were delighted and we have had no further comments about bags since.” Island Christian Academy

“The ideal backpack should also have wide and padded shoulder pads, a chest strap and – though not a common feature in backpacks – a pelvis strap”. Abby Yek Cheung

smiling boy wearing a school bag

How to properly wear a back pack

When a student sees Abby for the first time, she asks them or their parent to bring in their backpack. She shows children how to wear their backpacks and she sends a picture to the parent to serve as an ongoing reminder, to ensure that the school bag is not too heavy.

“Backpacks should be worn on both shoulders, not just on one shoulder. They should sit squarely on the shoulders and the back, so weight is distributed evenly. Often students wear their bags slung low, which causes their upper body to lean forward to compensate. This puts pressure on the lower back. Bags should be worn high on the student’s back, with the bottom part sitting one inch above the hip.

The chest strap and the pelvis strap, if available, should be clipped in place so the backpack is close to the body. Straps can be adjusted to accommodate lighter clothing in the summer and thicker clothing in the winter. This prevents chafing caused by bags swinging from side to side.” Abby Yek Cheung

young boy sitting on steps putting heavy books into his school bag

What is the maximum weight of a school bag?

Ten pounds in a backpack is equivalent to 70 pounds of force on a student’s spine, according to a study by Dr Kenneth K Hansraj, formally Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine. Put simply, one book is equal to seven books on a neutral spine and, for students whose spines tilt forward by 20 degrees, one book is equal to 12 books to the spine. Dr Hansraj recommends students only pack what is necessary in their backpacks.

Abby advises heavier items should be placed in the centre of the backpack to ensure students don’t lean to one side. If a backpack is heavier than 20 per cent of a child’s body weight, she recommends a rolling backpack with wheels.

Teachers can also be reminded that students should not carry too many items in their bag.

“Our teachers do not give students multiple text books for homework purposes. We give minimal homework so bags are light and children aren’t sitting for prolonged periods of time after school. Year One to Year Six students have trays and Middle Year students have lockers to store their learning materials at school.” Island Christian Academy

Young child carrying a heavy school bag up stairs

When to seek help

If your child is complaining of back pain, or you can visibly see a difference in their stance, the way they sit, stand and walk its always best to seek help.

The Plumb Line assessment is used as a reference of alignment for the body when examining posture, and is a good starting point to see if you require some intervention.

“When you stand against the wall, the back of your head, your shoulder blades, your bottom and your heels should be touching the wall. If this is not the case, if your child bends forward and you see a curve, or if your child complains of pain, seek professional help. Addressing postural habits, pelvis alignment, teaching children how to sit and how to carry their backpacks can prevent and fix backpack injuries. Be assured that if the issue is postural, it can be fixed,” Abby Yek Cheung

Our top tips

Our top tips to make sure your child’s school bag is not too heavy:

  1. Match the backpack to the child – Purchase a backpack that is the appropriate size for your child and has two wide, padded shoulder pads, a chest strap and if possible a pelvis strap.
  2. Distribute weight evenly – Place heavier items in the centre of the backpack and make sure the child is using both straps (and the waist strap, if available).
  3. Tell kids to speak up if they’re hurting – Make sure your children let you know if they’re experiencing any back pain, tingling or numbness. It’s important that they realise how serious and damaging the long term effects can be.
  4. Seek medical advice – Speak to your Doctor or see a physiotherapist if you think your child is suffering.

Our Back Pack Recommendations

KAGS Ergonomic School Backpacks

Dark navy kids school bag

Founded by a group of Hong Kong based parents, KAGS promises to use the toughest and lightest material possible. Designed for primary school students KAGS have a wide range of backpacks, which have large top loading compartments for text books and a unique insulated rice box compartment. Available to order online.

Prices start from $868, shop online

FREEMAX The Body Solution

Backpacks for kids

Hailing from Spain these ergonomic bags are designed for children age 7 to 12. The revolutionary Nikidom roller schoolbag has 17.5 cm wheels that are quieter and make it easier to go up and down stairs. Available to order online.

Prices start from $880,

children's backpack

The Ergobag Prime bag is adjustable to the back length of the child, for a child up to 150cm. The waist flaps stay in place, ensuring the strain is taken off the child’s back. Available to order online.

Prices start from $1,242,

Dr Kong

kids School backpack

Dr Kong school bags are designed using a pressure free school bag concept. The middle back plate is hollow, which provides a pressure-free space, preventing the spine from hitting it and thereby protecting the spine. There is an online guideline to help parents select the correct size bag for their child. Dr Kong has various locations across Hong Kong.

Prices start from $499,

All images courtesy of Shutterstock

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Angela Baura
Angela Baura is a content writer, copywriter and communications strategist for large and small businesses across the globe that focus on healthcare, corporate wellness, executive coaching, education and families. She has 20 years of experience and is an award-winning storyteller and freelance journalist working for clients like the SCMP. She also writes for publications that want real stories to inspire positive action. Angela is also a member of the 2020 Diversity List, an initiative by the Zubin Foundation. More about Angela on her website

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