Medi Snips Back to school? | Sunday Observer

Medi Snips Back to school?

20 March, 2022

A healthy school bag protects students from musculoskeletal problems – Community Physician Dr Kapila Jayaratne

School gates are gradually opened for students in a staggered entry system following the “settlement” of the Covid -19 pandemic. The online platforms of learning are again little by little going obsolete. Textbooks, ordinary exercise books, thick exercise books, lunch boxes, water bottles and even sanitiser bottles are packed into schoo lbags by their parents and placed on their childrens’ shoulders. Step onto the roads and you will see something that is becoming increasingly common these days since school reopened: hundreds of children stooping forwards with a bag strapped on their back far too heavy for their respective weights.

The concept of the healthy school bag and proper bag behaviour, it seems, has now been forgotten by many parents, education authorities, teachers and children themselves today where outward appearances seem to matter more. This is despite the fact that a decade ago, an ergonomically-designed health schoolbag was introduced to all school children accompanied by the launch of a big campaign and public awareness was made to a maximum. Due to this a large number of schools made it mandatory for students to bring a healthy school bag.

A study conducted by Consultant Community Physician, Family Health Bureau, Dr. Kapila Jayaratne for his doctorate among students of varying ages in Grade 6 and 7 comprising girls and boys, has revealed that the participating students had experienced significant musculoskeletal pain around the back, neck and shoulder regions.

This research, supported by the Family Health Bureau of the Ministry of Health, revealed that the school bags currently being used by the students have resulted in many health related problems among them. This was due to several factors: Many of them were not up to healthy standards. Furthermore, they were not worn according to correct techniques, and worse still were far too heavy and had excessive weight.

Health problems

The Sunday Observer spoke to Dr Jayaratne and asked him to elaborate on the health problems which he said had been identified by the use of unhealthy schoolbags.

In reply he listed the following:

Pain in muscles and joints

Easy fatigability

Disorders of the spine

Drooping of shoulder


Psychological distress

Numbness and difficulties in various parts of the body

“Many innocent children suffer silently carrying unhealthy schoolbags”, he lamented.

Model school bag

The outcome of this study was that it spurred Dr Jayaratne to create a model and healthy schoolbag and introduce it to both Education and Health Ministries with the goal of reducing the many negative health impacts mentioned above.

We asked him what the main features of a healthy school bag were, and how they could be identified. In reply he told Medi Snips parents should look for bags that had the following features:,

Correct size –the size of the bag should comply with the height and back of the chest of the child. It should not go over the shoulders and below the waist line

Limited space –not allowing the child to put unnecessary items into the bag and increase the weight of the bag. The bag have specific places for the lunch box and the water bottle

Two distinct, separate compartments to limit relative movement of the contents and to put heavier books closer to the centre of gravity of the body Adequately cushioned back wall minimising pressure exerted by the bag on the back of the chest Two wide, cushioned shoulder straps with moveable buckles to reduce pressure on the neck-shoulder region and to fix the bag snugly to the body Waist belt –the weight of the bag is transmitted to the hips and legs minimising effect of the weight on the body of child

Bag should also be properly packed

Since many parents and children did not know how to pack the bag properly to ensure that the user can carry it comfortably on his back, he said, he had gone a step further and provided parents with instructions on how to pack the bag and to teach their children how to do so as well. Parents should make sure that :

The height of the bag selected should be according to the height of the student.

Heavier books should be packed in the proximal compartment to the body.

The contents in the bag should be properly packed, so that they do not move inside the bag.

Only essential books should be packed in the bag according to the school time table. The water bottle and the lunch box should be packed in relevant pouches.

How to wear the bag

What about the best way the bag should be worn?

In reply he listed the following instructions:

It should be worn in the following manner:

The bag should be worn on both shoulders.

The shoulder strap buckles should be adjusted to fit the bag tightly to the body.

The buckle of the belt should be adjusted from the front

The bag should not be allowed to droop down

The lower edge of the bag should not hang for more than 4 inches below the waist level.

International standards- how far does it match? Was it adapted to local standards ?

To our query as to how far the bag had been modelled to match international standards, his response was, “ According to international standards, a student generally can carry 10 percent of his/ her body weight. It should not exceed 15 per cent under any circumstance. Therefore, directing students to use a healthy schoolbag produced according to proper standards in the correct manner will enable them to minimise many health related problems they face due to the excessive weight of the bag.

To our final question on advice to parents, (and students) when selecting a school bag, he said, “Select an ergonomically-designed schoolbag in backpack model with two compartments, cushioned and moveable shoulder straps, waist-belt and cushioned back wall for their children. This will ensure they are free of developing spine and back problems at an early age as their bodies and muscles and joints are still developing and growing.“