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Wednesday 9 February 2022 9:12am

Heavy school bags are a “significant” issue for teenagers, with one-third of them thinking their bag is too heavy to walk or bike to school, BEATS Research from University of Otago shows.

Sandy Mandic image
Associate Professor Sandra Mandic

Associate Professor Sandra Mandic, Research Affiliate of the Centre for Sustainability, says physical activity levels among New Zealand adolescents are low but active transport to school has the potential to change this, as well as improve their health and wellbeing.

However, the BEATS Research findings, published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found female and underweight adolescents, and those living in large urban areas were more likely to have heavier school bags relative to their body weight compared to their counterparts.

The average school bag weight of the more than 1500 teenagers was 5.2kg, with 10 per cent of them carrying an additional bag with an average weight of 2kg.

“Excessive school bag weight is a significant issue for New Zealand adolescents. More than 50 per cent of participants experience body pain and/or fatigue as a result of carrying their school bag and one third of them think their school bag is too heavy for walking or cycling to school.

“Interestingly, physically active adolescents are less likely to report their school bag being too heavy for walking or cycling to school,” Associate Professor Mandic says.

She believes strategies aimed at reducing adolescents' school bag weight should be considered as part of overall efforts to encourage active transport to school.

“Reducing the amount of schoolbooks that adolescents carry to school on a daily basis would be one way to help this. It would also help looking at what else they really need to bring to school daily and if some of it, such as some sports gear, could be stored at school.”

It is a common misconception that the move to electronic devices would reduce school bag weight, but the BEATS findings show this is not the case.

“More than 85 per cent of adolescents carried books to school and 60 per cent carried an electronic device. Adolescents who brought their electronic device to school also had heavier school bags and more frequently reported fatigue and/or pain symptoms from carrying their school bag throughout the day,” she says.

Recommendations for school bag weight limits range from 5 to 20 per cent of a child's body weight.

“When we are thinking about active transport, we need to consider both actual school bag weight and what adolescents – and their parents – about school bag weights.

“Future health promotion initiatives should focus on designing strategies to reduce excessive school bag weights, particularly for females and urban adolescents.”

This research is part of the BEATS Research Programme, which has run for the past nine years. Reported data came from the BEATS Rural Study (2018) and BEATS Natural Experiment (2019-present).

Publication details:

School Bag-Related Factors and Their Implications for Walking and Cycling to School among New Zealand Adolescents

Sandra Mandic, Kaisa Kentala, Margaretha Liliana Situmorang, Mohammad Lutfur Rahman, Kimberley King, Enrique García Bengoechea, Ann-Maree Fox, Ricardo Oliveira and Kirsten J. Coppell

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

For more information please contact:

Associate Professor Sandra Mandic
Centre for Sustainability
University of Otago

Ellie Rowley
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 278 8200

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