Back to school is a stressful time for parents and kids. Between shopping for supplies and school clothes, arranging schedules and getting back into the swing of early mornings, catching buses and packing lunches, anxiety is unavoidable. But parents can lighten their children’s loads considerably by making sure they aren’t carrying more weight than they can handle — in their backpacks. Choosing a backpack that fits your child’s height, weight and needs can mean the difference between a healthy back and an overstressed one, experts say. "There’s no such thing as one size fits all,” said Michael Dean, owner of Relax the Back stores in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. "There are about 160 moving parts in the spine, so it’s just ripe for problems.” While studies show that back injury is not the most common injury associated with backpacks, it is basically the only one parents can help prevent. A Consumer Product Safety Commission study reported 89 percent of backpack-related injuries have nothing to do with back pain. Instead, kids are tripping over their backpacks or using them as weapons against other kids more often than being injured by a too heavy or ill-fitting backpack. But parents can take measures to ensure that their children are carrying appropriately-sized packs that not only will reduce their risk of back pain but will provide them with a less dangerous weapon over which they might trip. "Seventy to 80 percent of all back and neck issues are caused by our own awkward postures that we do to ourselves over a considerable period of time,” Dean said. Good back-care habits should start young, he said. Making sure your child’s backpack fits properly and is not overstuffed with books and other heavy objects can mean the difference between a strong and healthy back and one with aching muscles, fatigued ligaments and an unhealthy spine. And with the rise in recent years of childhood obesity, Dean said doctors and physical therapists are seeing more backpack-related stress injuries. Consumer Reports recently tested the latest and greatest in backpacks using 50 schoolchildren as subjects. The results showed that second- and fourth-graders were carrying backpacks of proper weight, but sixth-graders’ backpacks were tipping the scales, sometimes weighing as much as 30 pounds. A too-heavy backpack can cause back pain and overextension of the back, Dean said. Heavy backpacks are particularly troublesome for students with limited access to their lockers and those who walk to school. Consumer Reports recommends that children’s backpacks weigh only about 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. The sixth-graders in the study were carrying backpacks that often weighed as much as 17 percent of their body weight. Rolling backpacks are ideal, Dean said, because they eliminate any back stress caused by ill-fitting or heavy backpacks. But if your child is "too cool” for a rolling model, Dean recommends Airpacks that offer air-pumped lumbar support. Here are some recommendations from Consumer Reports: → One size does not fit all. The bottom of the backpack should align with the curve of the lower back, and should not be more than 4 inches below the waistline. A backpack’s shoulder-strap anchor points should rest 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulders. → Inspect before you invest. Look for sloppy stitching or loose threads, which can indicate poor manufacturing. Raw, exposed fabric edges can fray and weaken the fabric or possibly get stuck in the zipper. Zippers should have fabric flaps to prevent moisture from seeping in. → Comfort, convenience and safety are important. Features to look for include wide, padded, contoured shoulder straps that distribute the pack’s load over a large area of the shoulder; an abdominal strap, which can help distribute the pack’s weight evenly on the back, waist and hips; and reflectors or reflective fabric on the pack to add visibility when kids travel to and from school at dusk or dawn. → Prevent injury with a lighter load. To prevent injury, load and wear the backpack correctly. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends carrying no more than 15 percent of your body weight.
Choose the right packTop-rated backpacks range in price from $15 to $70, depending on your child’s height and needs. The Consumer Reports best buy is Lands’ End FeatherLight, priced at $40. It scored high for its rain resistance, safety features and construction quality. Additional backpacks include: Best fit for children 4 feet to 4 feet 9 inches tall: →Lucky Bums Dragonfly 15, $44. →Kelty Grommet Junior, $32. →Disney Hannah Montana Undercover Pop Star, $15. Best fit for 4 feet 10 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall: →JanSport Big Student TDN7, $40. →LL Bean Original Book Pack TA49165 — CR Best Buy, $25. →Bakugan Battle Brawlers-Blue, $16. Best fit for 5 feet 9 inches and taller: →The North Face Jester, $55. →JanSport Boost, $70. →Lands’ End FeatherLight, $40. →Nike Core, $40. →Under Armour Varsity, $50. →Eastsport Basic With Organizer, $15.
Tax-free weekendOklahoma’s tax-free weekend starts at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 7 and ends at midnight Aug. 9. The tax-free weekend includes clothes and shoes priced at less than $100, diapers, swimsuits, wedding dresses and coats. School supplies are not included in the event.