Back-to-school health and safety tips

August 29, 2008

With the start of the school year comes a host of unique health and safety concerns for students to keep in mind. Everything from backpack use to appropriate sleep time are topics relevant to child health, and studies have helped guide the way toward avoiding the dangers and practicing preventive methods.

With the start of the school year comes a host of unique health and safety concerns for students to keep in mind. Everything from backpack use to appropriate sleep time are topics relevant to child health, and studies have helped guide the way toward avoiding the dangers and following preventive methods.

Backpack use
In the July/August Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, researchers found that when children wore a backpack of varying weights over both shoulders, contact pressures were significantly greater in a low-back position than in a high-back position.1 Regardless of carrying position, contact pressures on the right shoulder were always higher than those on the left.

And according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 6,000 students were sent to the emergency room for backpack-related injuries in 2002. In 2000, a CPSC estimate stated that more than 13,260 injuries treated in the emergency room related to incorrect backpack use occur in children ages 5 to 18.

The Nemours Foundation and the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center recommend the following tips for safe backpack use:2

  • The backpack should not weigh more than 15% to 20% of a child's bodyweight.
  • The heaviest items in a backpack should be closest to the center of a child's back.
  • Use both shoulder straps, and make sure they are tight.Stop at the locker often so that all books are carried the whole day.
  • When wearing or lifting a heavy backpack, bend using both knees.

Sleep habits
A statement issued by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) emphasized the harmful effects poor sleep habits can have on school activities during the day. The AASM noted that recent studies have linked lack of sleep with emotional problems such as moodiness or irritability, and cognitive problems such as reduced memory functioning, delayed reaction time, and a lack of motivation.3

The following are some tips from the AASM regarding sleeping well during the school year:

  • Limit sleeping in on weekends.
  • Do not stay up all night cramming for exams or doing homework.
  • Avoid food or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as medicine that acts as a stimulant, before going to bed.
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine and always get a full night's sleep. Adolescents should get about nine hours of sleep per night.

References
1. Macias B, Murthy G, Chambers H, Hargens A. Asymmetric loads and pain associated with backpack carrying by children. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics July/August 2008:5;512
2. Nemours Foundation. Backpack safety. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/learning/backpack.html. Accessed August 29, 2008
3. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Beat the back to school blues. Available at: http://www.aasmnet.org/Articles.aspx?id=1024. Accessed August 29, 2008