That heavy backpack can give your child hunchback
By Josfyn Uba, Christine Onwuachumba and Bianca Iboma
As a pupil in the 60s, 70s and 80s, can you still recall what your days at school were like? Did you attend a privately run school? How did you carry your schoolbooks? What did you write on? What was your classroom like? How conducive was your learning environment?
In the years gone by, pupils went to school in the most unattractive form. Learning was not equally sophisticated and easy as it is now due to the advancement in technology.
Those days, children went to school with black slates, cartons and clothes in form of bags, sharp-edged iron boxes or plastics. While teachers wrote on the chalkboards with chalks, pupils made use of slates as writing material. Today, all these have gone into the trashcan of history.
School has become more exciting and learning environment attractive and conducive. So, children not only look forward to going to school each day but also are anxious for obvious reasons.
There is so much fun with the use of modern gadgets in the learning processes. In some highbrow schools, classrooms are even air-conditioned. Regular use of teaching aids like e-learning boards, laptops, computers, flat screen television sets are incentives.
The most attractive sight, however, every school day is children of all ages, bearing all kinds of beautiful backpacks in a variety of colliers and patterns. Some are designed after famous cartoon characters like Ben 10, Cinderella, Barbie etc.
Amazingly, the way these heavy backpacks are worn over their backs is a perfect picture of mountain climbers. Interestingly too, these trendy paschal bags cut across all strata of kids, irrespective of class or age.
Do you know how heavy they are? Does it really bother you that your children groan under the burden of a school bag?
Once, an onlooker who was surprised at the bulk of the backpack worn by a pre-teen had asked the carrier if he would gladly back his younger one the same way he carried the bag everyday. Some of these backpacks could be of the same weight with that of a toddler or even more than.
Pupils routinely carry bags filled with heavy books, laptops, sports kits and packed lunches, water bottles and other stuffs. Most often than not, some of the bags are heavier than the children carrying them so much so that it is becoming a source of concern to parents.
Health experts, however, say children are at risk of long-term and ultimately permanent damage, if they regularly carry more than 15 per cent of their body weight over their shoulders.
A growing number of children are gradually and silently developing irreversible back deformities because of the weight of the bags they carry to school, experts said.
Daily Sun investigations have shown that over-loaded school bags that are up to double the size of those carried by students ten years ago, will also contribute to the health challenges as they grow. An unseen thief of the children’s physical structures is imminent, health experts say.
Dr. Chinedu Anumnu, a medical doctor stated that heavy backpacks are not good for growing up children. Backpacks on them are just like hunchback waiting to happen.
“Children’s bones are still very tender and when there is undue pressure on them, especially, when backpacks are pulling them backwards, it can cause detrimental effects. Backpacks lead to obvious health implications.
It is a grave danger to the shoulder blades and causes fatigue to otherwise active children.”
To help you understand how heavy backpacks can affect your child’s body, let’s delve into how the spine is built. The spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae, and between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers. When a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with everything you can imagine is incorrectly placed on your child’s shoulders, the weight’s force can pull your child backward.
To compensate this, your child may bend forward at the hips or arch his or her back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. And because of the excessive weight, the child might develop shoulder, neck and back pains all the time.
In future, a large number of children are likely to suffer back pain by the age of 14 due to the heavy burden experienced on the lower back region. Medics who spoke to Daily Sun opined that cases of spinal abnormalities in pupils, including disfiguring curvatures known as scoliosis is not ruled out, either.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 to 20 per cent of their weight, but often this limit is exceeded, and it could certainly lead to strain and even injury.
A study published in 2012 stated that children carrying back packs that are 10 to 17 per cent of their body weight are likely to experience back pain. Aside from back pain, an earlier study conducted in 2010 also found that heavy backpacks can cause changes in the lumbar disc height or curvature, which means that such a child is at risk of being a hunchback later in life. The signals from these studies are, therefore, worrisome.
According to Mrs. Gladys Efemona, a teacher in Delta State, back pains are often associated with growing older but these days many children and young people are experiencing it too. This is caused by carrying excessive load to and from school in ill-fitting backpacks.
For her, because today’s children are fashion conscious and vulnerable to peer pressure, they desperately want to show some class in the way they carry the bags. Therefore, they carry their backpacks over one shoulder leaving the heaviness to rest in one shoulder which can affects their spines and cause back aches as the case maybe.
“The challenge here as a teacher is that whenever I correct these children to carry the back pack on two shoulders, I discover that they still go back to the same fashion of carrying it on one side making the burden rest on a particular shoulder. We monitor them but there is a limit to which teachers can do so, especially on their way home or when they are out of sight.
“I try to educate them about it. I tell them when they do this, it increases the chances of developing lower and upper back pain, can strain their neck and shoulders. Parents should check the weight of what they carry before leaving home.”
Melody Rowland, a pupil of Military Primary School, Ojo Barracks, revealed that he had often experienced pain sometimes because of his heavy backpack. The boy said that they have to carry their books home everyday as they could be stolen, since they have no provision to keep them safe in the lockers or cupboards.
Chiamaka Iwuoha, a pupil, said she often feel chest pains. “It hurts me sometimes so much that my grandma have had to call my class teacher to ask her which books I should take to school, each day. To help her more, her grandmother has also stopped me from carrying my dictionary and other heavy books to school.”
Mrs. Efemona said when they continuously carry a bag on one shoulder it would make muscle strain to compensate for the uneven weight.
“I would advise parents to take their children along when they intend to buy them back packs because when they follow them to where it would be purchased the first thing would be the child liking the bag. The second thing is if the bag fits the child properly. If a school bag has narrow tight strap that deep into the shoulders it can interfere with circulation and nerves, which can weaken their arms and hands.
“When a child carries a bag that is too heavy and then she slings it to one shoulder, it can cause muscle strain. I know from my child’s experience. That is why I had to reduce whatever he takes to school. Sometimes, I give him hand carrier and reduce the content of his schoolbooks. I always find out from his teacher which of the important subjects that needs his text books for the day. I don’t want him experiencing back pain, muscle spasm or even muscle strain.”
Mr. Edwin Darek Obed noted that heavy backpacks sap children of energy that they would have used during school hours.
According to him, the stress of children carrying heavy bags, especially in situations where they have to walk some distance to school or have to carry, al least an hour during assemblies, could be unhealthy. It is sad that even in this digital era where some of the school work and assignment can be done online, they still carry heavy backpacks.
An Orthopaedic Surgeon, Babajide Saheed of the Lagos State General Hospital told Daily Sun that there are common injuries that can affect a child carrying heavy backpacks
The child’s muscles can be tightened with general back and neck strain, develop sore hips and experience knee pains due to the change in their walking style. Also, inflammation of growth cartilage can occur.
Saheed disclosed that the vertebrae act as natural shock absorbers for the body.
According to him, when a heavy weight, such as a backpack filled with heavy books or too many items are placed on the shoulder, the weight force can pull a child backwards. The child can bend forward at the hip or even arch the back, causing the spine to compress the disc unnaturally. The use of improper backpacks can also lead to poor posture and rounded shoulder. Girls and younger kids can be at risk especially smaller ones who carry load that are heavier in proportion compared to their body weight.
Frank Onyeka, physiotherapist, also voiced his concern on this issue. He said heavy backpacks are likely to distort the natural curves of the spine causing muscles strain and irritation to the spine joints and rib cage.
“We must understand that children’s skeletons are still growing, so carrying heavy bags can cause lasting damages. It is also very worrisome to me when I see them, stylishly carrying their bags on one shoulder. Worse still, many are increasingly carrying them on the crook of their elbows without knowing that they are placing a great strain on the spine.
“Increasing the backpack weight can lead to increased bone stress possibly causing developmental issues and pain. The regular carrying of heavy weight backpack can also flatten the lumbar region of the spine and deform the spine’s natural curvature. This is a public health problem that needs to be tackled.”
He advised students to carry minimal weight on their backs in order to reduce the extend of physical damages on their poster and bone health, he warned
Vincent Nta said parents, teachers and the government are to be blamed. “How did education get to this point that children are heavily burdened now? It is not a surprise that it can cause deformity because I have cautioned my children about it. I had to instruct my wife to stop giving them food to school. They should only take snacks. I ensure that they have their breakfast at home before leaving for school so that they don’t go empty. The government had harped on qualitative education but failed to provide some basic facilities that can enhance learning. Children don’t need this stress of carrying heavy load.
“What I expected from them is to reduce the stress by providing mini library for pupils. I went to school in the village without my parents buying books for me. I was making use of the school library provided by the government. Why can’t those in charge look for ways to make children learn in a conducive environment without passing through stress of imminent cases of deformities due to excessive luggage? It can disfigure them as they constantly stress their backs. I am happy that such a health conscious topic is being looked at especially as regard the well-being of the children. The creation of library would reduced the challenge whether private or public schools.
Mrs. Chineye Uzoeto, a mother lamented that there seem to be no end in sight to the use of these backpacks just as she cannot exactly remember how the trend crept into our culture.
“As a mother, l remember using one myself at a time but I wished l never did. Backpacks are necessary but l wish schools would provide students with lockers, where they can securely keep their books. It is unbelievable but it is true that a student carry up to 18-20 books, including heavy textbooks everyday. This happens especially, when they are given a lot of work in preparation for their examination. I also think that time-tables should be given and strictly followed so that the students would only take home only books that will be used for that day.
Ms. Chinyere Abiakam, a bag seller in Lagos noted that backpacks are not the only types of school bags. She said there are other durable types of school bags.
For her, durability, comfort and size are the key factors parents should consider when buying school bags for their wards.
“If you must buy backpacks, ensure that you purchase the ones that come with padded shoulder pads and waist belts. These types are less strenuous on the children’s tender muscles. There are also school bags that come with wheels that children conveniently roll along like travel bags. Backpacks come in all sizes, colours, fabrics and shapes and help kids of all ages express their own personal sense of style. When used properly, they are incredibly handy. Many backpacks come with multiple compartments that help students stay organized while they tote their books and papers from home to school and back again.
Mrs. Modupe Omisakin, proprietress of Great Tobeb Academy, Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, said it is a great challenge that needs to be addressed urgently before it gets out of hand.
“Teachers, parents and even the pupils need to be sensitised on the inherent dangers caused by carrying excessive weight on the back. Schools should be able to provide timetable and work around it so that children don’t get to carry heavy backpack. Parents should monitor the number of books that their wards carry each day and ensure that they have lesser books that can take them for the day.
I am going to add it to our announcement list and ensure that their P.E teachers educate pupils in this school about it. This alone is not enough. The campaign should be carried out to other schools in other parts of the state,” he declared.
A schoolteacher, Mrs. Elkhorn, has suggestions on how to solve the backpack syndrome. “I will suggest the introduction of lockers in schools. Not just desk lockers but wardrobe lockers because it will resolve the issue before it snowballs into a health risk.