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Unload the Backpack Weight

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Slaughter Development

The American Occupational Therapy Association recently suggested that backpacks weigh no more than 10% of a student’s body weight. With news such as this, manufacturers have begun tackling the challenge of creating ergonomic designs that are not just spacious but fashionable as well.

The Wall Street Journal recently discussed how the increasing amount of paraphernalia students are carrying in their backpacks is impacting more than just their workload. According to the article, the influx of weight is exacerbating back problems:

There were an estimated 27,900 backpack-related injuries among U.S. kids and adults last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most injuries occur to the upper back, as many kids grab one strap and go . . .  The resulting strain and inflammation frequently resolve on their own. But if a child keeps up the same motion, it can lead to more serious problems including damage to the brachial plexus network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand.

The combination of heavy books along with laptops, electronics, clothing, bottled water, lunch boxes and school supplies has increased backpack density to an astounding 22% of a student’s body weight. In response, manufacturers such as North Face, L.L. Bean and Land’s End have created designs that not only sport softer, more cushioned shoulder straps and back padding, but provide ample storage space:

The fastest growing backpack by sales at L.L. Bean Inc. this back-to-school season is the Turbo Transit II. It’s the retailer’s largest daypack—measuring 2,400 cubic inches, about the capacity of a small dorm refrigerator—with a separate compartment at the bottom that allows a child to store a change of clothes or shoes.

When it comes to selecting a book bag that is durable enough to carry a couple of bowling balls, the options are seemingly endless. Yet, it appears as if the solution to the heavy backpack problem has become dependent on a bag’s design rather than the contents being stored within it. To Slaughter Development this is a bit mind boggling.  After all, is it really necessary to carry a change of clothes and shoes to every class? Haven’t water fountains been stationed all around school buildings precisely so students are able to hydrate as much as they need to during the day? And what elementary or high school building allows personal laptops or electronics into the classroom?

To be honest, perhaps the only unavoidable item that weighs students down are school books. After all, it’s hard to regulate their size. So, rather than having students carry them around on their backs all day long, perhaps teachers could store them on shelves in their classroom. If homework requires the books be taken home, an option could be allotting a few minutes at the end of class for students to place them in their lockers or cubby holes. The point is, backpack awareness should be about eliminating unnecessary weight, not a reason to figure out better ways of carrying it.

Like the unnecessary contents of a student’s book bag, office stress and process overload weigh heavily on our shoulders. And though we could spend day after day manufacturing temporary solutions to unmanageable tasks, it would behoove us all to take the opportunity to seek out ways of improving our workload. For instance, rather than accepting additional work that will surely feel as if an elephant is standing on your back, consider that saying no or telling your colleagues that’s not my job is a responsible, healthful choice. Let this be a lesson to us all:  the ability to eliminate excess weight off our shoulders without actually losing anything pertinent to success is feasible!

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