Are Backpacks Threatening Our Health?

By Alexis Aberman

The halls of Byram Hills are filled with a multitude of uniquely different students. With each student varying in height, clothing, hair color and more, there is one characteristic that remains the same throughout: backpacks. Needless to say, backpacks are essential for bustling high school students. There is simply no other way to transport the various books, binders, and folders the high school courseload requires. However, our heavy and bulky bags may have more risks than benefits. In fact, it is entirely possible that the very bags that lift our books may drag down our health.

My curiosity surrounding the impact of backpack use was sparked after comments made about my posture while wearing my backpack. I was told that I looked “2 inches shorter” while wearing my backpack, and those are certainly 2 inches that I did not want to give up! I often find that my back hurts after long school days, and I have concluded that this pain is not from exercise but rather from my overflowing, enormous backpack. In fact, walking upstairs with my backpack on is arguably one of the events I dread most during the day. Not only does it mean that I am going upstairs to do my homework, but it also means struggle and sweat while carrying the heavy load up a flight of stairs. Many of Byram’s students would agree there is baggage that comes with our bags. The backpack issues affect all grades at Byram Hills High School. Although freshmen may be said to have the least amount of work, they still have very heavy backpacks. Freshman Sam Goldman says, “I carry 5 binders, and my bag gets very heavy. This leads to a large amount of pain in my back.” Additionally, sophomore Hayley Siegle described, “I cannot even begin to tell you how many people stop me each day to comment that my bag looks bigger than me and for sure weighs more than me! Lifting my bag in and out of the car everyday is for sure a workout of its own!” Juniors, with arguably the largest amount of school work, have excessively large and heavy bags as well. Junior Max Hammond explained, “It feels like I’m putting a bag of weighted rocks on my back every time I put my bag on because it has so many things in it.” Junior Lily Moss added, “I find myself having to bring home 2 to 3 binders each day and even 4 sometimes, which really weighs down my bag and puts a strain on my shoulders.” Junior Sam Brooks even remarked, “My sister got scoliosis from her backpack!” The seniors are currently free of their heavy backpacks for now, but senior Zach Berkman reflects, “One positive that comes out of finishing high school is that I don’t have to carry around my heavy books in my backpack for 7 hours everyday.” It is apparent that students face many struggles when it comes to transporting their books.

Many health professional would agree with these BHHS students’ claims that heavy backpacks are negatively impacting their lives. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “at least 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related injuries every year.” In effort to address this rising issue, The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that the weight of a backpack should be less than 10-15 percent of a child’s body weight. However, students are not always aware of the health risks their backpacks pose or they feel there is no other option for the transportation of their school supplies. Consequently, orthopedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson Daniel Green explains, “Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints and can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.” Karen Jacobs, a clinical professor in occupational therapy at Boston University, says, “[Students] look like turtles; they’re walking forward, the posture changed. Some will complain they have headaches, pain in the shoulders, neck, backs.” Additionally, a 2010 study of eight children published in the journal Spine found that heavier loads compressed the students’ spines. All of these sources confirm Byam students’ concerns: heavy backpacks really do have a negative impact.

As the school year is coming to an end, it is important that students do their best to minimize the weight of their backpacks. This can be accomplished by frequently changing binders in between classes, cleaning out backpacks often to remove unnecessary items, and staying organized. It is clear that we must change our habits in order to protect our health. Next time you find yourself complaining of back pain or slouching in school, remember to make the necessary changes in order to alleviate some of the weight from your backpack. This way, Byram students can not only be healthier, but also be happier.