According to a survey conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), almost 68% of Indian school children aged between 7 to 13 years may develop chronic backaches, spondylitis, postural scoliosis, and early degeneration of the spine owing to heavy backpacks. The survey found that the majority of these children carry over 45% of their body weight in the form of bags, kits, sports equipment, instruments or study apparatus every alternate day. Heavy and uneven loads at such young ages can easily lead to irreversible back problems and spinal deformation.
Doctors, health experts, and education departments have repeatedly raised concerns about the weight of students’ schoolbags. In spite of the Children’s School Bag Act, 2006 which specifies that no schoolbag should be heavier than 10% of a child’s weight, students are shouldering very heavy loads due to intense curriculums. ASSOCHAM conducted the survey among more than 2500 children and 1000 parents in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and Lucknow. They found that most of the students had to carry over 20 textbooks and exercise copies along with kits and equipment for extracurricular activities every alternate day. While most schools insist on carrying study material and notebooks for every class, they rarely provide storage spaces or lockers to keep stationery, books, or kits at school.
How can heavy school bags damage your child’s back and neck?
1. Putting too much weight on the back causes uneven strain on the shoulder and back muscles, disc, and spine. It can put excess pressure on one side and affect the alignment of the spinal column, leading to bending of the spine, disc compression or lumbar asymmetry.
2. The disrupted growth of the musculoskeletal system, spondylitis, slip disc, spondylolisthesis, and backaches are common problems that school children experience due to heavy backpacks. Once children start suffering from back problems, they may continue to face them throughout life.
3. According to a study mentioned in Science Daily, heavy backpacks can also damage the soft shoulder tissues of children and lead to microstructural injury to their nerves. The consequences of such damage range from irritation to hindrance in hand movements or dexterity of the fingers.
4. The impact of heavy school bags is aggravated when students don’t wear their luggage correctly and increase the chances of injury. Children often wear their backpacks too low or do not use the waist belts that puts more strain on back muscles and joints and causes shoulder aches, muscle pain, and posture issues.
Tips and measures to prevent the damage:
1. In October 2016 the Bombay High Court instructed the Maharashtra education department to look for effective solutions to reduce the weight of children’s school bags and raise awareness. The court said that parents and school authorities need to work together to implement remedial steps and follow government guidelines.
2. According to the existing law, children studying in nursery or kindergarten should not carry any school bags. The court asked state departments to stipulate guidelines on bags for older children.
3. The education department should also conduct surprise checks on various schools and report and take action against those that overburden their students.
4. Another measure suggested by the Bombay High Court is to introduce lockers to schools so that children do not need to carry all their study material, equipment, and stationery every day. While this measure can surely be introduced in private schools and city government schools, it’s not feasible in village schools and remote areas.
5. Authorities have also pointed out that children now get much lesser exercise and activity than necessary. So, they don’t develop the muscular strength and stamina to carry loads as well. Activity and stretching exercises will help promote good posture and prevent stiffness or back issues.
6. It’s also important to wear the bags correctly. Teenagers and children should be encouraged to wear both straps and fasten the chest or waist belts so that the load is distributed evenly.