12 School Backpacks Doctors Buy for Their Own Kids
We spoke to doctors and health experts to see which backpacks they’re really buying for their own kids because growing spines and minds need proper support.
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Padded straps make all the difference
If you’re busy loading your shopping cart with the cutest back-to-school products, you’re going to want to pay careful attention to the backpacks you choose for the growing bodies in your life. Students carry over 15 percent of their own body weight on average in their backpacks, according to this public health study, which causes biomechanical and physiological adaptations that could increase musculoskeletal injuries. “Look for shoulder straps that are wider, thicker, and offer extra padding so they don’t dig into shoulders,” suggests Irwin Benzel, DO, and board-certified pediatrician in Teaneck, New Jersey, who is also a father of three school-age children.
Waist support is also important
Besides padded back straps, look for a waist strap as well. “An added belt that can wrap around the waist will help distribute weight,” shares Dr. Benzel. “My own fifth-grader tends to carry the entire contents of his locker home each day, and this helps.”
Adjustability is key
Make sure those padded straps are also adjustable. “A bag with good, adjustable straps can help kids carry the weight properly,” says Jennifer Wieder, MD, board-certified New Jersey pediatrician with three young children of her own. “Carrying a heavy bag every day can lead to poor habits, posture issues, and upper back pain. It’s good to establish healthy posture habits at a younger age, especially for adolescents. The joke of it all is that I buy inexpensive but well-made backpacks for my kids because you really don’t need to spend a fortune.”
The bag’s weight matters
Lift the bag when it’s completely empty as a litmus test. “I’ve seen backpacks that weight three to four pounds even before anything is added to them,” says Doris Day, MD. clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health and mom of two. “I personally prefer backpacks made of materials like neoprene, because it’s very lightweight and flexible. Baggu is a good brand for this because they also have wider, adjustable straps.” And while you’re at it, skip these back-to-school items that are a waste of money.
Watch out for these skin issues
Dr. Day says acne-prone teens, smaller kids, and those with sensitive skin will derive an even greater benefit from lighter backpacks. “Preschool kids are adorable but some are even smaller than their bags now,” she says. “I also see bigger kids over-packing their bags with too many books, computers, and other stuff—this can cause redness and bleeding under the straps, or even folliculitis on the back.” The Beyond Beautiful author says to watch out for telltale signs of overpacking. Folliculitis looks like pimples, and comes from the sweating and friction of the heavy backpack against the skin.” Your teen may benefit from this guide to how to treat every type of acne as well.
On-trend gets kids on-board
Use their sense of style to benefit their health. “Cute, stylish, popular brands are the qualities my own 10th grader cares about,” shares chiropractor Lily Friedman, DC, of Comprehensive Wellness Institute in Hollywood, Florida. “We agreed on a bag that is all of the above and has great supportive features as well. It’s a canvas Herschel Supply Co. backpack with a suede reinforced bottom and strong, wide padded straps for use on both of her shoulders. It also comes equipped with various compartments of all sizes for all of a teenagers needs.” It’s also a great Amazon Prime gift for just about any student on your list.
Yes, you need both straps
“Backpacks are handy and incredibly sensible way to carry books and papers from home to school and back again, but the key is they must be used properly,” shares Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, of Pure Direct Pediatrics. “I always recommend two shoulder straps. That is the most beneficial way to have equal weight distribution and if possible, look for a waist strap which helps disperse the heavy load more evenly across the upper torso.”
Aim for a padded back
Padded straps are a must; a padded back is a plus. “A padded back will also help kids be more comfortable and prevent sharp corners of heavy textbooks or school supplies from causing chafing or discomfort across the back,” says Dr. Husain. “I buy backpacks with multiple compartments that not only allow kids to stay organized but also help to distribute the weight across the backpack rather than all toward the front pockets. In general,” he adds, “it’s better to pack heavier items closest to the center of the back to allow the safest distribution of weight.”
Wheels up, this school year is taking off
Here’s a bright idea: Maybe we the most delicate spines can roll their load to and from school each day instead. “If kids have the option to not carry a heavy bag even with padding, they should opt for a school bag that they can wheel to school instead.” Steve Fallek, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon, medical director at BeautyFix Med Spa, and father of two, feels strongly that younger children especially can benefit from wheeling their vital items rather than struggling to carry heavy backpacks.
Go for foam
“If you don’t like wheeling-style backpacks, definitely make sure your child’s bag has soft foam padding,” says Dr. Fallek, “Because you don’t want them to have excessive strain on their neck, back, and shoulders. This can lead to muscle fatigue and back pain.”
Use your child’s own waist as a guide
Club Pilates education director and mom to two boys Alicia Lavender encourages fellow parents to find the right-size backpack based on their child’s waist. “A backpack should not be wider than your child’s torso or hang more than four inches below the waist. This is key for helping good posture because if the backpack hangs low the child will counterbalance by walking hunched over, which causes strain in the neck, shoulders, and back.” Opt for models designed specifically for younger children if the wearer is young, petite, or has a shorter torso. These are the back-to-school items that can actually make your child healthier.
Go for the classics
Lavender stresses that core and spine strength is essential for just about every movement in the body, and proper posture is part of that. “Strengthening the back and core abdominal muscles is ideal in order to improve posture and ease the burden of carrying a heavy backpack for long periods of time,” she says. “In addition to picking one of the best backpacks with even weight distribution, it’s a good idea to encourage healthy back and core muscles with exercises like bird dogs, planks, and bridging to avoid excessive strain.” Load up on even more tips for a healthy back-to-school season.