School is now in session, and with the return of scholarly pursuits comes the reemergence of that time-honored student accessory -- the backpack.
Trumbull mom Nikki Satin, 44, said backpacks are one of the few wearable items she can get her three sons to care about. "They're not fashionistas," she said of her guys, aged 12, 10 and 8. Athletic shoes and backpacks are the only items they're remotely interested in shopping for, so Satin said she lets them pretty much pick what they want.
But, in the back of her mind, she does worry that her boys' bags -- or, at least, the heavy books and school supplies they carry inside them -- are harming their health. "It is kind of cumbersome those first few days of school when they have so much to transport," Satin said.
She said she tries to make sure her sons pick lightweight canvas bags, with plenty of zippered compartments so their school supplies and whatnot can be evenly distributed within. Yet she's still concerned about whether her sons' backpacks are bad for them. And she might be right to worry. Medical experts said there are serious health risks associated with carrying a backpack that's too big, too heavy or otherwise ill-suited to your young one. "Children's bones are still developing and they're still growing," said Dr. Deborah Mogelof, medical director of Westport Urgent Care. Given that, she said, wearing the wrong backpack can cause a variety of problems, including spinal alignment problems and spinal disc injuries.
Dr. Rachel Sheiman, of Penfield Pediatric in Fairfield, agreed that backpacks are a potential source of injury among school-aged children. "The kids I see frequently complain that they have back pain and they assume it's from their heavy backpacks, so it's something we talk about," said Sheiman, whose practice is affiliated with St. Vincent's Multispecialty Group and St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport.
Both Sheiman and Mogelof said there are guidelines to picking the most appropriate pack for the student in your life. Does your child's bag make the grade? Take a look at the following list.
Measure up: Keep your child's size and age in mind when selecting a pack, Mogelof said. Also keep in mind the amount of schoolwork the bag would have to accommodate. "Kids in preschool or kindergarten aren't going to carry as much as a high school kid," Mogelof said. A good rule of thumb is that the bottom of your child's backpack should lie on a point on the back directly across from his or her belly button, and that the pack shouldn't be wider than the space between your child's shoulder blades, she said.
Pad it out: Both Mogelof and Sheiman said the pack's straps should be padded to avoid them digging into the wearer's shoulders. Padding is also essential around the body of the bag to prevent sharpened pencils, scissors, the corners of textbooks and other pointy school supplies from poking your child in the back.
Make it lightweight: This applies both to the pack itself and the cargo that lies within. Experts said you need to start with a lightweight -- but sturdy -- pack that will hold your child's books, but not add too many ounces to the overall load. Contrast and compare and don't get swayed by aesthetics. Leather packs might look sharp, but Mogelof said they're typically heavier than most canvas backpacks. Once the pack is filled, it should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of your child's weight, Sheiman said.
Spread it around: Satin's impulse to get her sons backpacks with multiple compartments is right on the money, doctors said. "Try to use all of those compartments, to help easily distribute the weight," Sheiman said. To held keep distribution even, do what you can to make sure your child wears both backpack straps -- not just one.
If your child is carrying a really heavy load, Mogelof said there are backpacks with wheels that kids can pull behind them. But "it's probably not easy for kids to pull those around school," she said.
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