Huge weight on their shoulders

2019-11-27 06:01
heavy school bagsPHOTO:

heavy school bagsPHOTO:

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SCHOOLING and studying are taking their toll on children — literally — with a new international study showing that the weight from heavy backpacks can have serious consequences.

The force exerted on the spine can be as much as 12 times greater than the backpack’s weight, and wearing it regularly can lead to the “wear, tear and degradation” of ligaments.

This study has thrown into focus the demands placed on pupils and students these days, with the increasingly heavier backpack seen as a signifier of the greater responsibilities placed on their shoulders. With writing pads, textbooks, sports equipment, extra curricular items and lunch boxes, pupils and students are carrying heavier and heavier backpacks.

The general rule of thumb is that a backpack should not exceed 10% to 20% of a person’s body weight, and so a 15-year-old who weighs 56 kg should have a backpack weighing no more than six kilograms.

Girls are often smaller than boys, yet they end up carrying the same weight in books and homework.

Previous research by the South African Society of Physiotherapy reveals that small children carry backpacks weighing as much as 7,5 kg.

This study, which appears in the Surgical Technology International and was authored by spine surgeons and experts in rehabilitation medicine and biomechanics, says that one book in a bag is equivalent to the weight of seven books on the spine.

Researchers looked at the force exerted on the spine when a person is standing with a straight or “neutral” posture with both backpack straps in use. The other scenario presented was when the posture was a bit poorer, or when the head is 20 degrees forward.

Weights were put incrementally in the bags and the force exerted on the spine was measured.

Weights ranging from 0,45 kg to as heavy as 45,36 kg were tested.

The study found that the force on the neutral spine was 7,2-fold, and 11,6-fold on a slightly hunched back.

For example, the force exerted on a straight back from a backpack weighing 11 kg was 804,40 newtons — this is the equivalent of putting 81 kg on the spine.

“People everywhere have struggled to assess the impact of objects in a backpack to the body in general, and to the spine in particular,” said lead researcher Dr Kenneth Hansraj.

“Backpack use is associated with back pain, intervertebral disc compression, neck pain, altered posture, altered walking mechanics, and plantar foot pressure. The first affected are the ligaments. When the ligaments are stressed and are inflamed, then there is loss of side-by-side range of motion and [increased] stiffness. The muscles are also stressed and inflamed.

“Stressing a muscle makes it stronger. However, persistent eccentric loading leads to intractable pain. With persistent eccentric loading the process of wear, tear and degeneration proceeds. Surgery may be needed,” said Hansraj.


YOUR child is likely carrying a bag that is too heavy

The South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) says many children carry backpacks that are too heavy.

Their research suggests that about 31% of boys carry backpacks that are too heavy, compared with nearly 42% of girls.

SASP says that the strain on children’s bodies is worsened when they walk great distances with their bags, and that ill-fitting bags cause more pain.

Research by the SASP in 2014 revealed that about 88,2% of pupils reported having pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back, and about 37,8% had lower-back pain.

— WWR and Parent24.


1. Ensure your child carries a bag weighing no more than about 10% of their body weight.

2. Use a bag with adjustable straps and ensure there is no gap between the bag and the child’s back.

3. Be sure to use both straps. Never use just one strap, especially when the bag is carried for long periods of time.

4. Ensure your child packs with the timetable in mind: only packing what will be used on that day.

5. If the school has a locker or similar facilities, your child must make use of them.

6. If the option is there, the youngster can make use of digital options. It is easier to take notes and read on a single tablet than carry heavy books.

7. Ensure your child has good posture: their ears should line up with their shoulders, and their chest should be open.

8. Encourage them to develop a strong core and legs as these muscles help absorb the effects of heavy weights.

— WWR and Parent24.

“IT’S an indication of a poor value system.” — Education analyst Professor Kobus Maree agreed that the heavy backpack is a metaphor for the demands placed on the shoulders of pupils and teachers.

But he said it is also an indication of an education culture which puts far more emphasis on pupils and students bettering their peers rather than developing well-rounded, mature adults who focus on social responsibilities.

“Of course marks are important, but what is lacking at schools is an emphasis on social responsibility. We hardly ever see awards that go to those who have good interpersonal skills or have other skills which we should be treasuring.

“Life orientation teaches this but, according to my information, it’s not covered adequately. Pupils need to understand that leadership does not only manifest itself when you’re in the SRC. It is a person who helps others and offers their time to others.

“Globally, that kind of behaviour is treasured. But there’s a glaring absence of that in our schools.”

He said: “Schools are inclined not to make the most of the sterling services of their former pupils who have gone on to become well-rounded role models, people who have ‘made it big’ are seen as being successful.”

Maree said that this perception has given pupils and students an “almost hypnotic” view that success means being better than their peers.

“Parents have a psychotic desire for their children to be better than others. It is indicative of a deeply troubled society.”

He said this can have long-term effects on a person.

“When I go to international conferences, no one is interested in people’s marks, they care about what you’re doing to impact on others’ lives.

“Career counselling has to do with being able to enter the working world, but also to what extent you can make a social contribution. That is the true marker of a well-rounded person.” — Weekend Witness

THE chairperson of the Parents’ Association of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Vee Gani, said the current generations of pupils may not all have the pressures of common home chores like previous generations, but they are struggling with peer pressure and a lack of social connection.

Gani said children these days appear more likely to fall victim to peer pressure to fit in with their friends, like having the same cellphone or dressing the same.

He said: “If we look back, previous generations did lots of things like play sports or join debating clubs. Now children aren’t interested in these things and there is more pressure on academics.

“They have more social demands, like ‘I need this cellphone’, or ‘I need this pair of shoes’, and this is a little different from traditional pressures.”

He added that many children are “disconnected” from their families because of technology. “They are also growing up unhealthily and eating more junk food.”

He agreed with the study that children’s bags are heavy and that there are concerns that the bags damage their posture. — WWR.


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