The start of the school year is always a challenging time for parents and children. Parents will be thinking about book lists, uniform requirements and the dreaded lunch box dilemma of finding healthy items their kids will actually eat! However, there are two topics that are often overlooked when it comes to the back to school discussion and these are arguably two of the most important – what backpack and what school shoes are best.
Obesity rates amongst Australian children and adolescents have increased significantly since the 1970’s, with Australian kids found to be some of the least active in the world in a 2019 report. Ranking 32nd out of 49 countries, Australia has received a D minus 3 times in a row, with no change in children’s overall physical activity levels since 2014!
Physically active children are better equipped for school, being more social, less susceptible to depression, anxiety and displaying better cognitive skills. Walking, skateboarding or riding to and from school is a great way to get kids moving in a fun and social way, however making sure they have appropriate backpacks and school shoes is vital.
The Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Chair of Paediatric, Nicole Haynes advised:
“Sedentary habits aren’t likely to be broken unless there are easy, attractive ways for kids and teens to be regularly active. One easy thing parents can do is ensure that their kids’ school bags and shoes fit properly so that their travel to and from school – whether that be walking, cycling or riding a scooter – is comfortable enough to encourage kids to be active.”
Can backpacks cause back pain?
Nicole Hayne urged “parents not to be concerned about children carrying a backpack of moderate weight, as weight-bearing activities like this can in fact prevent back pain in adolescence.” However, she emphasises the importance of getting a backpack that is comfortable.
How to choose the right school bag?
Nicole’s predecessor at the Australian Physiotherapy Association, Julianne Pegler, detailed some useful tips for finding the right backpack:
- Choose a backpack with wide shoulder straps that sit well on the shoulder.
- Ensure waist and chest straps help transfer some of the load to the hips and pelvis.
- A padded back support will allow the pack to fit ‘snugly’ on the back.
- Ensure the backpack fits the child – don’t buy a big pack to ‘grow’ into, it should not extend higher than the child’s shoulders when sitting.
- Be aware that moderately weighted backpacks are not detrimental to kids’ back health
- Avoid swinging backpacks around.
How to choose the right school shoes?
The average child wears their school shoes for over 1500 hours per year – that’s a lot of running, jumping, kicking and playing on hard surfaces so it’s important that school shoes support kids’ feet.
When buying school shoes Julianne recommends to:
- Make sure the shoe has a firm heel counter, which is designed to hold the foot in place. Without a firm support around the ankle, the shoe isn’t able to support the foot properly.
- Make sure the shoe has good torsional stability. Hold both ends of the shoe and twist in opposite directions. There should be minimal movement. Torsional stability protects the foot from rolling in or out too far.
- Make sure the shoe bends in the right place. Squeeze both ends of the shoe together, it should bend at the toes where the foot naturally bends. If it bends in the middle it can cause extra stress underneath the foot.
- Make sure the shoe fits correctly – too much or too little space will affect comfort and potentially cause blisters or the foot to move too much within the shoe.
To help parents looking for appropriate back to school products for kids the Australian Physiotherapy Association endorses the below products:
- Ascent Footwear has a range of school shoes available exclusively through The Athlete’s Foot stores
- Spartan Primary Physiopak backpacks available via the Spartan School Supplies website
In order to receive APA endorsement, products are reviewed for any current evidence/research based on their use and TGA certification. Once this is established, a specialist Physiotherapist will review and test the product against the supplied information to ensure compliance.
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