Is your child's school bag too heavy?


A startling number of children suffer from back pain, according to the South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP). As our children head back to school, think about these revealing facts:

  • Many children carry bags on their backs that are simply too heavy for them. International guidelines says children should carry no more than 10-15% of their bodyweight.
  • Girls are often smaller than boys, but carry the same weight of books and homework. Recent research showed that 31% of boys carried overly heavy bags, compared to nearly 42% of girls.
  • A 2003 study showed children were carrying upwards of 7.5 kgs on their backs – that’s about 25% of their bodyweight for a child of about 30kg!
  • The further a child walks carrying that load, the worse the pain is likely to be.
  • Ill-fitting bags cause more pain.

From a 2014 study, we learn that...

  • About 88.2% of pupils reported having body pain especially in the neck, shoulders and upper back. 
  • About 35.4% of the children reported that carrying the schoolbag was the cause of their musculoskeletal pain.
  • The prevalence of lower back pain was 37.8%.

Tips for a good school backpack

As parents, we should campaign to ensure that:

  • No child carries more than 10% of their bodyweight.
  • Use a bag with adjustable straps, always ensure there’s no gap between the bag and the back, and don’t let your child wear a bag over one shoulder only.
  • The education system pays attention to this problem and finds ways to issue homework that are lighter or more tech-smart.
  • Distances from home to school are reduced, through transport options if necessary – many of our children walk long distances to and from school.
  • All schools included physical education and play areas that get our kids running and climbing and jumping.
  • All schools have lockers or other facilities, so children can safely leave their bags and carry only what’s necessary to each class.
  • Teachers know the issue and keep an eye out for children carrying too much, one-shoulder usage, or badly-fitted bags.

How to make cool school bag charms

"Children who have pain in their backs as early as primary school may grow into adults with chronic back pain, so this is a subject that we as parents and healthcare professionals need to take very seriously,” says Chantelle van den Bergh, chair of the SASP Paediatrics Special Interest Group.

For an assessment of your child, or to find a physiotherapist who works with children, go to

Do you weigh your child's school bag? Has your child experience back ache from carrying around a heavy school bag? What do you think can and should be done? Send your stories to for possible publication.

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