Do you sometimes feel schools are training children to be coolies (porters) when they grow up? You’re not alone. All over the world, parents, doctors, and educationists are worrying about the weight that children have to carry, and the effect it has on their backs, shoulders, and general health.

An average schoolday consists of eight periods or classes, usually of different subjects. Each subject requires the child to carry a textbook and several notebooks. Added to the several kilograms of books and notebooks are lunchboxes, water bottles, and sports equipment. Children end up carrying huge burdens on their backs, and it is no wonder that so many of them have aching backs and shoulders.

Problems caused by heavy bags

Lifting heavy burdens for a long time or distance isn’t good for anyone, least of all children. A recent study found that half of the schoolchildren studied had pain in the back or shoulders. The researchers also found that children in lower grades carried heavier bags.

Carrying a heavy bag on the back causes forward leaning and bad posture, which can lead to improper weight bearing on the spine, and pains and aches in the back and shoulders. Carrying a backpack weighing 15% of body weight makes a child or adolescent unable to maintain proper standing posture. Children could get into bad habits like poor posture and slouching.

Forward bending at the back (also called kyphotic posture) makes the work of breathing harder. Children carrying bags weighing more than 10% of their body weight have been found to have poorer lung function.

Children who use one strap bags (which put weight on one shoulder only) have particular problems. These bags cause sideways deviation of the spine (scoliosis) because of the asymmetric weight distribution, and this can cause long lasting back aches and damage.