How much satchel can a child cope with?
Scarcely any issue worries parents, grandparents and guardians as much as the question as to which satchel or school rucksack is the right one and how much weight can a growing back be expected to carry?
Together with unfounded but often worrying information provided by the media, these worries are also compounded by the clear increase in backache and posture problems among children and youngsters. Some scientific studies indicate a "dramatic" growth in the prevalence of backache with increasing age: from less than 10% in the age group up to 10 years through to 50% in the 15- and 16-year olds (Sheir-Neiss et al. 2003). A striking accumulation of back problems is registered particularly during the intensive growth phases in adolescence.
Empty weight and straps
An ergonomic satchel/school rucksack should relieve the back. In this context, the empty weight of the satchel may not exceed 1,500 g for an inner volume of at least 15 l.
The straps must be at least 4 cm wide and well padded to distribute the weight evenly across the back. It should also be easy to adjust the straps.
Back section and compartments
The following applies to the back section of the satchel: raised sides and non-slip material ensure it fits correctly. Permeable padding also lets the air circulate better, while an ergonomic contour relieves the pressure on the spinal column.
Another important aspect is the design of the compartments. They must ensure that heavy items can be positioned next to the back.
Extremely important to test the satchel
To find the ideal satchel for each individual child's back, it is vital for the child to try wearing the satchel before making the purchase to allow for individual adjustment and testing.
Does the ratio between satchel weight and child weight matter?
Together with a lack of exercise and long hours spent sitting down, one essential risk factor being discussed in the context of posture problems and backache in children and youngsters is the strain of carrying a full satchel/school rucksack. Every additional weight is deemed critical in terms of protecting young adolescents. However, up to now there have been no scientifically sound findings to indicate heavy satchels as being a cause of backache.
Nor is there any sound verification for recommendations that a carried weight should not exceed 10 to 12.5% of the bodyweight. On the contrary: results of the kids check study by Saarland University show that adolescents with average fitness show no signs of excessive strain even with a carried weight amounting to 20 % of their bodyweight, while physically weak children show signs of excessive strain already with a carried weight of 12 %. Standard values can therefore cause confusion when trying to decide which product to buy and distract from actually more complex problems.
Discussions of the possible risks for young growing backs are highly diverse and often related to the age, the individual load compatibility (force and coordination capability), strain duration, ergonomic quality of the satchel/school rucksack, individual carrying habits and other so-called risk factors such as lack of exercise and long hours spent sitting down.
Key aspects for parents/guardians
Satchel or school rucksack? In most cases, children prefer to change from a satchel to a school rucksack after the first 3 years as a school rucksack is felt to be "cooler". However, both options are also possible right from the start of primary school as long as they fulfil the ergonomic requirements (see below).
Do not apply rigid limit values (e.g. 12 %) to the carried weight in the context of potential risks for the child.
Make sure the satchel/school rucksack only contains what your child really needs at school.
Make sure your child wears the satchel/school rucksack correctly. Is it too close to the body? Is it too high or too low? Are heavy items stored in compartments close to the body?
Load does not always cause excessive strain. Wearing satchels/school rucksacks also has a positive effect in training the muscles and bones.
Make sure that your children get lots of varied, daily exercise. This starts with walking to school. Children need plenty of exercise to be fit.
Currently fashionably trolleys won't help your children. On the contrary, they pose a number of disadvantages.
Study by the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft für Haltungs- und Bewegungsförderung e.V. (BAG - Federal Consortium for Posture and Exercise)
A survey (with assessment of around 2,000 questionnaires) by the BAG, Wiesbaden in primary schools in the German state of Hesse during the academic year 2005/2006 provided interesting findings about the following facts (Dordel, Breithecker et al. 2007).
- School journey (distance; how does the child get there)
- Carrying behaviour (duration, habits)
- Carried weight
A brief summary is provided below.
One positive finding was that more children walk to school (74%) than is usually presumed. Most children (77.6%) had to cope with a distance of maximum 1,000 m so that the satchel (at this point in time school rucksacks were less common at primary schools) was worn for about half an hour to get to school and back home again.
The empty satchel weight was on average 1.3 kg which was in the upper regions of the weight recommended for primary school children.
The relative satchel weight - weight of the satchel (incl. contents) in ratio to the bodyweight of the child - was 13.3% on average.
With regard to carrying behaviour, while most children usually carried their satchels on their back, in only a few cases was the satchel in the physiologically correct position. Frequently the straps were too long so that the satchel was carried too low with the child having to lean forwards to compensate. This placed an unnecessarily high strain on the spinal column which was also asymmetrical in the sagittal direction. This was accompanied by kyphosing of the spinal column with constriction of the chest, which according to Lai et al. (2001) results in a restriction of the lung volume. Carrying the satchel in this way comes about when the child/parent does not know how to adjust the straps so that the satchel/school rucksack sits in a physiologically correct position, or if the satchel/school rucksack does not fulfil the necessary demands in terms of ergonomic design. Unfortunately today there is a clear trend to carrying satchels/school rucksacks in this way which is harmful to the back, and constitutes an unnecessary additional strain for the back.
Information and clarification is urgently needed in this respect, particularly when it comes to the "cool" rucksacks, which may be super-light but fail to fulfil the ergonomic criteria in the way that a good school rucksack does.
The study has once again made it quite clear how important it is to provide determined information and clarification about the ergonomic requirements, particularly in terms of how to carry a satchel, in addition to dealing with the many uncertainties about the carried weight. Here the AGR hopes to make a major contribution by awarding its seal of approval to tested satchels and school rucksacks.
Starting school means a new phase in life for many children. They often sit for long hours on ergonomically unsuitable chairs, both at school and during their leisure time, and will often carry satchels that are too heavy with incorrect satchel habits, over a period of many years. This is compounded by a decrease in exercise. Altogether, these conditions can result in a development that has a negative impact on body posture which may lead to backache.
While the posture and locomotor system are still undergoing development, the whole body must be presumed to be particularly sensitive to overloads of all kinds. This makes it all the more important to draw attention to ergonomic conditions already during childhood, including for example using an ergonomic satchel weighing no more than 15% of the bodyweight, and which must be carried correctly on the back. Regularly carried satchels can also be seen in a positive light as an appropriate training stimulus for the developing locomotor system.
For recommendations of ergonomic school and home furniture, please refer to products certified by AGR for healthy children's backs.
Source: Dr. Dieter Breithecker, Federal Consortium for Posture and Exercis.