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Make sure backpacks and their contents don't weigh more than 15 percent of a child's body weight.
Use a pack with wide, padded straps and a padded back.
In the meantime, parents should help kids maintain good backpack posture:
her back to school shopping at Mervyn's in MilbraeJIM LIGHT of San Mateo was a little worried last year, watching his then sixth grader daughter lug around what seemed like a million pounds of textbooks in her backpack.
It's enough to make a physical therapist cringe.
Jeannie Bosley, assistant superintendent of the Belmont Redwood Shores School District, says many students at Ralston Middle School in Belmont have had their loads lightened as a result of a class project several years ago in which students studied backpack heaviness, and came to some interesting conclusions.
Heavy backpacks are not just child's play.
"It's even worse now in high school," she says. "Everyone has to share a locker, so it's really crowded. I keep all my books in my backpack."
OK, posture and good habits are fine, but for kids, the real measure of a backpack is whether it passes muster at school.
Tighten straps so that they fit comfortably under arms. The pack should not sag down past the waist; it should fit comfortably in the center of the back.
For today's schoolkid, the backpack is a constant companion. Books, binders, papers, calculators, pens, changes of clothes, cell phones and MP3 players all end up in there. (Not to mention mashed up, mummified remains of bygonelunches, wadded up notes and lord knows where it came from unidentifiable detritus.)
Three years later, Weise, now 17 and going into her senior year at El Camino High School, says backpacks are as heavy as ever.
If textbooks are heavier than those recommendations, the state Board of Education requires that, starting with new math books adopted for 2007, publishers give districts the option to purchase a lighter weight edition of the book, a book split into two volumes or an electronic version. Districts have to pony up the cash for the lighter weight options.
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"You've seen kids walking down the sidewalk hunched under this heavy load," says San Francisco physical therapist Sturdy McKee. "If the backpack's too heavy, they have to change out of their normal posture. Doing that once or twice is not a big deal, but doing it over the course of years, it can have deleterious effects on the spine."
And what about that state law? While it raised awareness about heavy backpacks, it doesn't do much to help schools.
pick a pack with lots of pockets
"They ended up presenting the results to the school board: how many pounds, the number of books, the health implications," Bosley says. "They made a rather compelling case."
In 2002, State Sen. Jackie Speier, D Hillsborough, co sponsored a bill that was signed into law by then Gov. Gray Davis. It required the state Board of Education to establish maximum weights for textbooks and recommendations for lightening backpack loads.
Parents and kids should work together to find a backpack that fits two sometimes opposite, yet important, criteria: It should be sturdy, and it should be cool.
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Wear backpacks on both shoulders.
While some classes still are using both sets, Bosley says, budget cuts mean the program will have to be phased out as new textbooks are adopted.
When that bill was working its way through the legislature, Cally Weise of South San Francisco spoke at a news conference at the state Capitol. At the time a 92 pound eighth grader, she said she nearly fell down the stairs at Westborough Middle School because her backpack weighed 21 pounds.
blase about the heavy backpack thing. "I think it toughens you up," she says, shrugging.
The state has set recommended textbook weights: 3 pounds for kindergarten through fourth grade; 4 pounds for grades five through eight; and 5 pounds for high schoolers.
It's the same pale lilac pack that the daughter, Taylor, wears casually slung over one shoulder, the straps hanging loosely.
When he put the pack on the scale, he discovered that it Hermes Belt Expensive was actually 38 pounds, filled with binders and books.
To address the problem of heavy packs, some schools have purchased two sets of books one for home, one for school.
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