Donna White

It’s that time-back-to-school! Many parents and children prepare for the first day of school by doing some back-to-school shopping, which often involves buying new clothing, pens, pencils, paper, markers, etc. Texas shoppers got a break from state and local sales taxes this weekend during the state’s annual tax holiday. This year, backpacks under $100 and used by elementary and secondary students were added to the list of permissible items. A backpack is a pack with straps one wears on the back. Backpacks with wheels, provided they can also be worn on the back like a traditional backpack, and messenger bags are also included. The exemption does not include items reasonably defined as luggage, briefcases, athletic/duffle/gym bags, computer bags, purses or framed backpacks. Ten or fewer backpacks can be purchased tax-free at one time without providing an exemption certificate to the seller.

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As practical as backpacks are for those who use them, backpacks can cause strained muscles and joints and back pain when worn incorrectly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you use the following five criteria when shopping for a backpack:

Choose a lightweight backpack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load. For example, although leather backpacks look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks. Choose a backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps. Straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders. Choose a backpack that has a padded back, which provides increased comfort and protects the wearer from being poked by sharp edges (such as pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the backpack. Choose a backpack that has a waist belt, which helps distribute the weight more evenly across the body. Choose a backpack that has multiple compartments, which also helps distribute weight more evenly.

Although most backpacks come with two shoulder straps, this doesn’t mean that your kids will use both straps! Make sure your children wear the backpack using both straps. It’s also a good idea to tighten the straps enough for the backpack to fit close to the body, and it should sit 2-inches above the waist.

Girls and younger children may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they’re smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight. Doctors recommend that people carry backpacks that are no more than 10-15 percent of their body weight. For example, an 80 pound child’s backpack and its contents should not weigh more than 12 pounds.

Another option is a backpack on wheels. However, these types of backpacks may be less practical than traditional backpacks because they’re difficult to pull up stairs. Also, you will want to contact the child’s school first to be sure that they are allowed. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they pose a tripping hazard in the hallways.

Information from this article provided by Courtney J. Schoessow, M.P.H., Extension Program Specialist - Health, Texas Cooperative Extension, August 2005.