Backpacks Weigh Heavy on Kids

A heavy load can be bad for your child's back

Is your child hauling around a backpack with the same cubic capacity as a dorm-room refrigerator?

Kids do take this much stuff to school: Many lug all of their books, a laptop, lunch and other supplies on a daily basis due to time limitations between classes or, as is the case in our school district, to the lack of lockers because of safety concerns.

According to The American Occupational Therapy Association, “A loaded backpack shouldn’t exceed 10 percent of a child’s body weight.” This means that a 100-pound middle or high school student’s backpack should weigh about 10 pounds.  

However, the American Chiropractic Association says, “the average child carries about 22% of his or her body weight,” which is about double what they should be carrying.

The simple solution would be to have a child use a wheeled bag. But have you asked your child if they would use one? If you have, then you know a student would rather suffer pain than be seen pulling one of these unpopular school bags.

What is a parent to do?

Our Moms Council weighs in with their assessment and solutions to this on-going problem.

Tonia Accetta: My daughter’s backpack weighed in at 14 lbs. Wow! As we all know, some of our schools do not have lockers and therefore our kids have to carry their packs all day. I am happy that our local school and PTO have been addressing this issue and are
making some changes.

In sixth grade my son carried three bags to school, a backpack, a heavy Dell laptop and lunch. To combat this I started delivering lunch everyday along with many other parents that considered this one of the only solutions. Three years on and my daughter goes to school with a very compact light netbook, the large heavy Humanities binders have been reduced to lightweight simple folders, and to solve the lunch issue I found a very compact lunch box at the Asian market which is double-layered for fruit and snacks on top and a salad or sandwich underneath. The water bottle was also adding weight so now we simply send it empty and she fills it at school from the water fountain as needed.

We’re still at 14 lbs., but we are heading in the right direction.

Tam Dorow:  My 64-pound boy has a backpack that weighs about 8 pounds. But it does contain a large bottle of water and lunch.  He does not need to carry a computer to school as that is kept at school.  However, I think that is still excessive. Some mornings I carry his backpack because he cannot make it up the hill on his bike with it.

My daughter weighs about 85 pounds and her back pack is about 11 pounds.  She carries a netbook. It is a rather large and cumbersome backpack.

I still think it’s a good idea to limit the amount of things we carry around and be mindful of the excessive weight and strain it puts on our back regardless of whether it is in excess of the recommended 10% of our body weight. 

I think that applies to adults as well. I see a lot of women carrying around these gigantic purses and I wonder what they’ve got in those things. In this instance, I think working smart is preferable to working hard. 

Kurt Sauter: I decided to check my son’s backpacks. My youngest son is in second grade so he doesn’t have textbooks and his homework is worksheets. His backpack was three pounds with his lunch in it. That is just over 6 percent of his body weight – within the guidelines. I was surprised at the percentage since his backpack seems really light.

I was sure my older son would be over the limit. I checked two configurations – one with a laptop that he takes on some days and one without the laptop. My older son weighs about 70 pounds and is in fifth grade. The light backpack was 8 percent of his body weight, within the guideline. With the laptop, the percentage was over 16 percent – much too heavy.

This suggests that the much smaller netbooks are a better option to reduce the weight. Also, classrooms are tight and the netbooks don’t have as large a footprint and cost much less. I have trouble seeing everything on those small screens, but I am much older and the kids don’t seem to have a problem.

Suzette Valle: My daughter’s backpack got considerably lighter this year since she and her high school teachers dispensed with binders. Now, she carries lightweight folders and loose leaf paper in her backpack instead of those heavy and cumbersome binders. This made a huge difference, but hasn’t solved the overall problem. She still has to carry weighty, hard-covered textbooks along with her other supplies.

For some student-athletes in our area, the heavy-load problem is compounded because they have to carry their sports equipment to
school every day as well. Most kids are lucky to live near school so they can run home and swap out the backpack for the baseball bag, but this is not the case for all kids. This is especially burdensome for middle school kids since they don’t have lockers or secure spaces to store equipment bags.

For now, the locker is our family car.


Tonia Accetta is stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 with her husband of 15 years.

 Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam when she was 10. She worked at all of the Big 3 U.S. car companies and has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the last 10 years.

Kurt Sauter is a father of two sons, works part-time as a chief engineer and system architect and volunteers with Coronado youth sports organizations.

Suzette Valle is a 20-year Coronado resident who was recognized by Time Warner as one of the local “50 Best Moms” in 2006. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and blogs at