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Percentage of Body Weight Carried by Students in Their School Backpacks

Forjuoh, Samuel N. MB, ChB, DrPH; Lane, Bryan L. DO; Schuchmann, John A. MD

American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation: April 2003 - Volume 82 - Issue 4 - p 261-266
doi: 10.1097/01.PHM.0000057227.35210.50
Research Articles: Health and Safety

Forjuoh SN, Lane BL, Schuchmann JA: Percentage of body weight carried by students in their school backpacks. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2003;82:261–266.

Objective To determine the percentage of body weight represented by backpacks and the types of backpacks carried by elementary school students.

Design A cross-sectional study was conducted in three elementary schools in central Texas. All students in kindergarten through fifth grade were invited to participate. A letter, with no direct mention of backpack weighing, was sent to each parent for written consent. Student weights and heights and their backpack weights were measured by trained research assistants.

Results The mean backpack weights, which increased significantly with increasing grade level, varied significantly by school, backpack type, day of week, body mass index, and race/ethnicity. The backpack loads represented an average of 8.2% (95% confidence interval, 7.8–8.5) of student body weights but increased significantly with increasing grade level, from 6.2% among kindergarteners to 12.0% among fifth graders. Twenty-six percent of students carried backpacks that weighed at least 10% of their body weights. A total of 25 students (3.5%) had backpacks with wheels. Wheeled backpack users were significantly older and more likely to be girls or from school B. Concern about weight was the most popular reason cited for using a wheeled backpack.

Conclusions Backpack loads represent a significant percentage of body weight of this sample of students aged 5–12 yr. Some students are already using wheeled backpacks, which may have their own hazards.

From the Departments of Family and Community Medicine (SNF, BLL) and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (JAS), Scott and White Memorial Hospital, Scott, Sherwood, and Brindley Foundation, Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, College of Medicine, Temple, Texas.

Supported by a Scott and White Institutional Research Fund.

Presented, in part, at the 2001 SafeUSA Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, December 3–5, 2001.

All correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Samuel N. Forjuoh, MB, ChB, DrPH, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Scott and White Santa Fe Century Square, 1402 West Avenue H, Temple, TX 76504.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.