Find A PhysicianHome  |  Library  |  myDownstate  |  Newsroom  |  A-Z Guide  |  E-mail  |  Contact Us  |  Directions
curve gif

[September 30, 2013]

SUNY Downstate’s Occupational Therapy Students Visit Local Schools to Explain Backpack Safety on National School Backpack Awareness Day

Students from SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s Occupational Therapy (OT) Program once again participated in National School Backpack Awareness Day, a program sponsored by The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA). This annual tradition brought OT students back to Brooklyn’s Public School 176, The Ovington School, after a successful visit last year, and back to Parkside Preparatory Academy at Middle School 2, having visited the school a few years ago. 

At the recent event, SUNY Downstate OT students shared their knowledge of backpack safety with a range of students—third-graders at PS 176 and sixth-graders at MS 2— and encouraged them to begin listening to their bodies and thinking about injury prevention.  The OT students’ presentation included an original play complete with costumes, as well as a skit to help the children remember safety tips using the letters of the word “backpack.” 

In addition, Downstate OT students visited classrooms to weigh children and their backpacks, and to facilitate the learning of safety tips on a more individual level.  New York City Council Members Mathieu Eugene (District 40) and Vincent Gentile (District 43) presented Downstate’s OT Program with certificates for its service, and they further encouraged the children to prioritize their health and well-being.  

“This event continues to be an essential part of Downstate OT students’ many community service experiences,” said Joyce S. Sabari, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, associate professor and chair of the Occupational Therapy Program at Downstate, “and we are proud to have served about 440 children this year.” She added, “This was our 11th consecutive year of providing backpack awareness programs in Brooklyn public schools, and we look forward to continuing this tradition for years to come.”    

AOTA notes that heavy loads carried by more than 79 million students across the United States can cause low back pain that often lasts through adulthood. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2010 nearly 28,000 strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures from backpacks were treated in hospital emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, and clinics.

AOTA offers the following tips for keeping kids safe while toting books to and from school:

•Always select a backpack that is the correct size for your child.
•Make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.
•Always wear well-padded shoulder straps on both shoulders so the weight is evenly balanced.
•Distribute weight evenly. Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back and balance materials so the child can easily stand up straight.
•Wear the hip belt, if the backpack has one, to improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.
•Check that the child’s backpack weighs no more than 10% of his or her body weight. If it weighs more, determine what supplies can stay at home or at school each day to lessen the load.
•If the backpack is still too heavy for the child, consider a book bag on wheels.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.