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Satchels/school rucksacksPrint

How much satchel can a child cope with?

Scarcely any issue worries parents, grandparents and guardians as much as the question as to which satchel or school rucksack is the right one and how much weight can a growing back be expected to carry?

Together with unfounded but often worrying information provided by the media, these worries are also compounded by the clear increase in backache and posture problems among children and youngsters. Some scientific studies indicate a "dramatic" growth in the prevalence of backache with increasing age: from less than 10% in the age group up to 10 years through to 50% in the 15- and 16-year olds (Sheir-Neiss et al. 2003). A striking accumulation of back problems is registered particularly during the intensive growth phases in adolescence.

Empty weight and straps

An ergonomic satchel/school rucksack should relieve the back. In this context, the empty weight of the satchel may not exceed 1,500 g for an inner volume of at least 15 l.

The straps must be at least 4 cm wide and well padded to distribute the weight evenly across the back. It should also be easy to adjust the straps.

Back section and compartments

The following applies to the back section of the satchel: raised sides and non-slip material ensure it fits correctly. Permeable padding also lets the air circulate better, while an ergonomic contour relieves the pressure on the spinal column.

Another important aspect is the design of the compartments. They must ensure that heavy items can be positioned next to the back.

Extremely important to test the satchel

To find the ideal satchel for each individual child's back, it is vital for the child to try wearing the satchel before making the purchase to allow for individual adjustment and testing.

Does the ratio between satchel weight and child weight matter?

Together with a lack of exercise and long hours spent sitting down, one essential risk factor being discussed in the context of posture problems and backache in children and youngsters is the strain of carrying a full satchel/school rucksack. Every additional weight is deemed critical in terms of protecting young adolescents. However, up to now there have been no scientifically sound findings to indicate heavy satchels as being a cause of backache.

Nor is there any sound verification for recommendations that a carried weight should not exceed 10 to 12.5% of the bodyweight. On the contrary: current results show that adolescents with average fitness show no signs of excessive strain even with a carried weight amounting to 20 % of their bodyweight (Kid Check study by the University of the Saarland, 2008), while physically weak children show signs of excessive strain already with a carried weight of 12 %. Standard values can therefore cause confusion when trying to decide which product to buy and distract from actually more complex problems.

Discussions of the possible risks for young growing backs are highly diverse and often related to the age, the individual load compatibility (force and coordination capability), strain duration, ergonomic quality of the satchel/school rucksack, individual carrying habits and other so-called risk factors such as lack of exercise and long hours spent sitting down.

Key aspects for parents/guardians

Satchel or school rucksack? In most cases, children prefer to change from a satchel to a school rucksack after the first 3 years as a school rucksack is felt to be "cooler". However, both options are also possible right from the start of primary school as long as they fulfil the ergonomic requirements (see below).

Do not apply rigid limit values (e.g. 12 %) to the carried weight in the context of potential risks for the child.

Make sure the satchel/school rucksack only contains what your child really needs at school.

Make sure your child wears the satchel/school rucksack correctly. Is it too close to the body? Is it too high or too low? Are heavy items stored in compartments close to the body?

Load does not always cause excessive strain. Wearing satchels/school rucksacks also has a positive effect in training the muscles and bones.

Make sure that your children get lots of varied, daily exercise. This starts with walking to school. Children need plenty of exercise to be fit.

Currently fashionably trolleys won't help your children. On the contrary, they pose a number of disadvantages.

Checklist

  • The empty weight of the satchel/school rucksack should not be more than appropriate for the age of the child, which is about 1,300 g for primary school children (with an inner volume of at least about 15 l) and about 1,500 g for secondary school children (with an inner volume of at least about 25 l).
  • Handling: the satchel/school rucksack should have a comfortable lifting aid (handle).
  • The shoulder supports (straps) must be
    • well padded with an ergonomic design: an S-shape prevents pressure sores at the neck.
    • at least 4 cm wide and made of non-slip material.
    • seamless on the shoulders with no inner seams to cause pressure or friction.
    • easily adjustable to take account of different body proportions.
  • It must be possible to adjust the shoulder supports (shoulder height adjustment) so that the satchel fits close to the shoulder blades.
  • The compartments must be designed to put and carry heavier items next to the back in a specially provided inner compartment.
  • A (removable) waist/hip strap with gently padded waist flaps and a (removable) chest strap that can be adjusted in length and height must fix the school rucksack securely to the body to shift the weight from the shoulders to the rear upper iliac crest. The chest strap prevents the curved padded straps from sliding off the shoulders. Satchels only need the described chest strap.
  • For the school rucksack, the contents must be brought close to the back, e.g. using a drawstring with compression effect or compression strap on the side. This compresses the school rucksack, thus reducing its leverage effect on the back. Most of the total weight is thus shifted from the child's back to the rear upper area of the pelvis with optimum distribution by the waist flaps.
  • The school rucksack should have a reinforced base to stand securely on its own.
Design of the back
  • Ergonomic contours (taking account of physiological vibration of the spinal column) to relieve the spinous processes of the spinal column and share the main load evenly over the soft tissues along the spinal column. The satchel/rucksack should fit snugly to the back.
  • Robust material so that the contents do not press against the user's back.
  • Permeable back padding so that air can circulate, preventing any accumulation of heat.
  • Non-slip material with back guidance on the side, e.g. raised sides or waist flaps for the rucksack to prevent it sliding back and forth and to ensure the satchel/rucksack is positioned in the middle of the back.
  • For the school rucksack, easily handled adjustment of the back length so that the height of the school rucksack can be adjusted individually on a size scale. The adjustment mechanism may not apply any pressure to the child's back.
Also appropriate for the satchel
  • Easily handled adjustment of the back length as for the rucksack
  • Removable waist/hip strap with gently padded waist flaps to distribute the load across the robust hip region

Minimum requirements

  • The empty weight of the satchel/school rucksack  should be appropriate for the age of the child,
    • approx. 1,300 g for primary school children (with an inner volume of at least about 15 l)
    • approx. 1,500 g for secondary school children (with an inner volume of at least about 25 l)
  • Comfortable lifting aid (handle)
  • Shoulder straps: well padded, wide enough, easily adjusted, non-slip
  • Compartments: several compartments so that heavy items can be placed close to the body
  • Back section: ergonomic shaping, pressure-resistant, permeable (e.g. ventilation grooves), non-slip, side guidance
  • Chest straps adjustable in length and height (can be removed for school rucksack)
  • Adjustment of the back length
  • Waist/hip strap (removable) [rucksack]
  • Drawstring with compression effect, compression strap [rucksack]
  • Reinforced base, firm stand [rucksack]

Also appropriate

  • Adjustment of the back length [satchel]
  • Waist/hip strap [satchel]

Products in this sector with the AGR seal of approval

Manufacturer

Coocazoo*
by Hama GmbH & Co KG
Dresdner Str. 9
86653 Monheim
GERMANY
Phone +49 9091/50 20
Fax +49 9091/50 24 67
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.coocazoo-rucksack.com

DerDieDas**
c/o Georg A. Steinmann Lederwarenfabrik GmbH & Co. KG
Am Waldrand 29
90455 Nürnberg
GERMANY
Phone +499122/796-0
Fax: +499122/796-82
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.steinmanngruppe.de/en

Scout***
c/o Georg A. Steinmann Lederwarenfabrik GmbH & Co. KG
Am Waldrand 29
90455 Nürnberg
GERMANY
Phone +499122/796-0
Fax +499122/796-82
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.steinmanngruppe.de/en

Step by Step****
by Hama GmbH & Co KG
Dresdner Str. 9
86653 Monheim
GERMANY
Phone +49 9091/50 20
Fax +49 9091/50 24 67
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.stepbystep-schulranzen.com

Further information

Study by the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft für Haltungs- und Bewegungsförderung e.V. (BAG - Federal Consortium for Posture and Exercise)

A survey (with assessment of around 2,000 questionnaires) by the BAG, Wiesbaden in primary schools in the German state of Hesse during the academic year 2005/2006 provided interesting findings about the following facts (Dordel, Breithecker et al. 2007).

  • School journey (distance; how does the child get there)
  • Carrying behaviour (duration, habits)
  • Carried weight


A brief summary is provided below.

One positive finding was that more children walk to school (74%) than is usually presumed. Most children (77.6%) had to cope with a distance of maximum 1,000 m so that the satchel (at this point in time school rucksacks were less common at primary schools) was worn for about half an hour to get to school and back home again.

The empty satchel weight was on average 1.3 kg which was in the upper regions of the weight recommended for primary school children.

The relative satchel weight - weight of the satchel (incl. contents) in ratio to the bodyweight of the child - was 13.3% on average.

With regard to carrying behaviour, while most children usually carried their satchels on their back, in only a few cases was the satchel in the physiologically correct position. Frequently the straps were too long so that the satchel was carried too low with the child having to lean forwards to compensate. This placed an unnecessarily high strain on the spinal column which was also asymmetrical in the sagittal direction. This was accompanied by kyphosing of the spinal column with constriction of the chest, which according to Lai et al. (2001) results in a restriction of the lung volume. Carrying the satchel in this way comes about when the child/parent does not know how to adjust the straps so that the satchel/school rucksack sits in a physiologically correct position, or if the satchel/school rucksack does not fulfil the necessary demands in terms of ergonomic design. Unfortunately today there is a clear trend to carrying satchels/school rucksacks in this way which is harmful to the back, and constitutes an unnecessary additional strain for the back.

Information and clarification is urgently needed in this respect, particularly when it comes to the "cool" rucksacks, which may be super-light but fail to fulfil the ergonomic criteria in the way that a good school rucksack does.

The study has once again made it quite clear how important it is to provide determined information and clarification about the ergonomic requirements, particularly in terms of how to carry a satchel, in addition to dealing with the many uncertainties about the carried weight. Here the AGR hopes to make a major contribution by awarding its seal of approval to tested satchels and school rucksacks.

Conclusions

Starting school means a new phase in life for many children. They often sit for long hours on ergonomically unsuitable chairs, both at school and during their leisure time, and will often carry satchels that are too heavy with incorrect satchel habits, over a period of many years. This is compounded by a decrease in exercise. Altogether, these conditions can result in a development that has a negative impact on body posture which may lead to backache.

While the posture and locomotor system are still undergoing development, the whole body must be presumed to be particularly sensitive to overloads of all kinds. This makes it all the more important to draw attention to ergonomic conditions already during childhood, including for example using an ergonomic satchel weighing no more than 15% of the bodyweight, and which must be carried correctly on the back. Regularly carried satchels can also be seen in a positive light as an appropriate training stimulus for the developing locomotor system.

For recommendations of ergonomic school and home furniture, please refer to products certified by AGR for healthy children's backs.

Source: Dr. Dieter Breithecker, Federal Consortium for Posture and Exercis.

Pictures

The right satchel/rucksack puts physiological load on the back

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