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Guidelines on schoolbag use: Messaging to inform the stakeholders

Despite the extensive research in the area of schoolbag carriage, there is a lack of evidence on the dissemination of information to the stakeholders or the acquisition of knowledge by the stakeholders about the topic. For example, few studies have involved the parents/guardians of the children. Yet, they are highly influential in their children’s behaviours and central to the development of their children’s lifestyle habits. Furthermore, they control the expenditure and play a significant role in the decision making on the type of schoolbag that is purchased. The compliance or adherence of children to schoolbag weight limit guidelines has been the focus of much of the research in this area. Poor compliance has been reported consistently [1, 2, 3, 4], however, there is little documented evidence that children, or their parents, have ever received information or advice about the guidelines. Although a provision of specific weight limit guidelines is not advocated here, there is a need for some guidance to enable schoolbag carriage to be undertaken in the optimum way, to the benefit of the child.

The guidelines for schoolbag carriage that are presented in this document aim to provide a knowledge base for stakeholders, including users (children), providers (parents, retailers) manufacturers of schoolbags, and other stakeholders such as teacher organisations, health care professionals, and policy makers. The intention is to disseminate the information to as many people in the target populations as possible.

Given the diversity of the potential target audiences for these guidelines, the emphasis on the relevant content may alter from one population to another. Additionally, the most appropriate and effective method(s) of delivery of the information to a target population may be different in each situation. Therefore a number of possible methods of delivery of the information are included in this document. A number of options have been provided, but other alternatives may also be appropriate for specific populations. It is hoped that knowledge transfer to the stakeholders involved in schoolbag carriage will enable them to focus on the relevant factors that promote safe, efficient and optimal schoolbag carriage, while limiting the potential for schoolbag-related discomfort.

1Introduction

Globally, carrying a schoolbag is a common and necessary activity for school-aged children. Schoolbag carriage is an activity that is often associated with musculoskeletal pain or discomfort. However, the adverse effects of schoolbag carriage can be decreased if there is awareness of basic ergonomic principles. Consider the type of school bag, the contents and method of lifting and carrying the bag. The aim is to eliminate or minimise discomfort, similar to the approach used in risk assessment in the workplace, and make the most from the exercise that children can get when walking to and from school with their bags.

2Schoolbag weight

The most frequently asked question about schoolbag carriage is, “What is the recommended weight that a child should carry in their schoolbag?” The response to this question is that there is no universal recommended weight for all children. A schoolbag load limit guideline that is based on the (i) absolute weight of the schoolbag or (ii) the relative weight of the schoolbag to the child’s bodyweight does not predict schoolbag-related musculoskeletal discomfort or pain [5]. Furthermore, given the changing pattern of obesity in children [6], a guideline schoolbag weight that is based on the child’s bodyweight is not appropriate. In the light of this, guidelines should focus on factors other than schoolbag weight as detailed in this document.

3Guidelines for schoolbag carriage

  • Use a backpack style bag with adjustable padded shoulder straps to fit the size of the child’s back.

    A bag that is too big, or that has not been adjusted to fit correctly will hit against the child’s buttocks as they walk. The bag will move out of step with the child’s normal gait pattern, resulting in a feeling of discomfort and a greater feeling of effort.

  • Look for a padded back and hip strap if possible.

    The padded back protects the back and is more comfortable to use and the hip strap distributes the weight of the schoolbag.

  • Put the heaviest items in the backpack close to your back

    This means that there will be less strain on the spine when the bag is carried.

  • Wear the bag on the back with the straps on both shoulders.

    This method of carriage has been shown to require less effort and encourages better posture than carrying the schoolbag over one shoulder or carrying it in one hand.

  • Carry only what is needed. Think ahead and only carry books and other items as required. If there is a locker available in school, you should make good use of it.

  • Carry only when you have to.

    It has been found that the length of time that the schoolbag is carried and the combination of length of time and schoolbag weight may be relevant for back discomfort or pain. However, further investigation using objective measures of time would be required before more conclusive recommendations could be made. For now, children should be advised to wear the schoolbag only when they have to. For example, if standing around or waiting for a bus, leave the schoolbag on the bench or ground while waiting.

  • Avoid swinging the schoolbag around and lifting it on the back.

    Swinging the schoolbag onto the back applies a combination of twisting and side bending of the spine, which could cause excessive stress or strain on the spine. It is better to place the bag on a surface and with the child’s back to the bag, put the arms through the straps. Or, another person could help by holding the bag while the child puts their arms through the straps.

  • Where possible involve the school, maybe encourage better timetabling of classes to minimise the need for all books to be brought to school every day.

4Conclusions

Exercise and movement are critical to healthy child development and to maintaining a healthy quality of life. Current physical activity guidelines state that children should perform at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day [7]. Walking to and from school while carrying a schoolbag could count as moderate activity and may be the only form of exercise that some children take. Therefore it should be encouraged, and not discouraged. Promoting the factors to limit the potential schoolbag-related discomfort and to apply best practice is the best way forward to ensure we get the balance right. In spite of the available evidence about schoolbag carriage there remains a dearth of knowledge among the principal stakeholders. Suggestions regarding knowledge transfer to the wide range of stakeholders are outlined in Table 1.

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank Karen Jacobs for her constructive suggestions and encouragement.

References

[1] 

Moore MJ, White GL, Moore DL. Association of relative backpack weight with reported pain, pain sites, medical utilization, and lost school time in children and adolescents. J Sch Health 2007;77(5):232–9.

[2] 

Kellis E, Emmanouilidou M. The effects of age and gender on the weight and use of schoolbags. Pediatr Phys Ther 2010;22(1):17–25.

[3] 

Adeyemi AJ, Rohani JM, Abdul Rani M. Back pain arising from schoolbag usage among primary schoolchildren. Int J Ind Ergonom 2014;44(4):590–600.

[4] 

Dockrell S, Simms C, Blake C. Schoolbag carriage and schoolbag-realted musculoskeletal discomfort among primary school children. Appl Ergon 2015;51:281–90.

[5] 

Dockrell S, Blake C, Simms C. Guidelines for schoolbag carriage: An appraisal of safe load limits for schoolbag weight and duration of carriage. WORK 2016;53:679–88.

[6] 

Shultz SP, Anner J, Hills AP. Paediatric obesity, physical activity and the musculoskeletal system. Obes Rev 2009;10(5):576–82.

[7] 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2016 [cited 2016 Mar 23]. Available from: www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/

Figures and Tables

Table 1

Messaging about schoolbag use

Target populationContent of the messagingPossible methods of delivery
Who to message?What is the message?How will the message be delivered?
ParentsWhat type of schoolbag to buyInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to buyText
What features it should haveEmail
What are the contents of the schoolbagPhone App
How to put the schoolbag on and offSchool website
How to use the schoolbag featuresSocial media
How to carry the schoolbagInformation seminar
How long to carry the schoolbag forPodcast
Poster at school entrance or classroom
Primary school childrenWhat type of schoolbag to haveInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to haveInformation seminar/quiz
What features it should haveArt project/competition
What to put in the schoolbagPoster at school entrance or classroom
How to put the schoolbag on and offAssembly
How to use the schoolbag features
How to carry the schoolbag
How long to carry the schoolbag for
Post primary school childrenWhat type of schoolbag to haveInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to haveText
What features it should haveEmail
What to put in the schoolbagPhone App
How to put the schoolbag on and offSchool website
How to use the schoolbag featuresSocial media as appropriate
How to carry the schoolbagInformation seminar
How long to carry the schoolbag forPoster on class notice board
Assembly
Teachers/Teacher organisationsWhat type of schoolbag to recommendInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to recommendInformation seminar
What features it should haveTeacher training
What to put in the schoolbagIn service training
How to put the schoolbag on and offConference exhibition stand
How to use the schoolbag featuresAssembly
How to carry the schoolbagSchool website
How long to carry schoolbag forDOE* website
Teacher organisation website
Social media
Webinar
Podcast
Health professionalsWhat type of schoolbag to recommendInformation leaflet
(Primary care; public health)What size schoolbag to recommendInformation seminar
What features it should haveIn service training
What to put in the schoolbagConference exhibition stand
How to put the schoolbag on and offProfessional website
How to use the schoolbag featuresDOE* website
How to carry the schoolbagWebinar
How long to carry schoolbag forPodcast
ManufacturersWhat type of schoolbag to produceInformation leaflet
What sizes of schoolbag to provideInformation seminar
What features the schoolbags should haveConference exhibition stand
What information to provide to customersDOE* website
Social media
RetailersWhat type of schoolbag to recommendInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to recommendConference exhibition stand
What features it should haveDOE* website
What to put in the schoolbag
What information to provide to the customer
Policy makersWhat type of schoolbag to recommendInformation leaflet
What size schoolbag to recommendConference exhibition stand
What features it should haveSocial media
What to put in the schoolbagDOE* website
How to put the schoolbag on and off
How to use the schoolbag features
How to carry the schoolbag
How long to carry schoolbag for

*Department of Education.