I am a big fan of standing workstations – they reduce sedentary time, and they are extremely cheap. In fact, I’m writing this post using a standing desk that I made for under $30. But standing desks certainly aren’t mainstream at the moment, and they haven’t made many inroads into the holy grail of desk-work: schools.
The average child spends about 7 hours per day – half their waking hours – sitting down. Much of that sitting is done at school, so an obvious question is whether standing desks might be a way to reduce sedentary time for school-aged children. A new study by Dr Mark Benden and colleagues has investigated that very question, and suggests that standing desks reduce sitting time, and may have real benefits for teachers as well.
What did they do?
Dr Benden and his team performed their study in a group of 4 first-grade classrooms – 2 classrooms were randomly allocated to receive desks that could be used while standing or sitting, while the other 2 classrooms used standard desks. The intervention lasted an entire school year. Kids were allowed to choose when they wanted to stand or sit. Energy expenditure was objectively measured in both the treatment and control groups, and interviews were used to assess teacher and parent views of the standing workstations among the treatment group.
What did they find?
Although they were able to sit or stand as they pleased, students in the treatment group spent an overwhelming majority of their time standing. An average of 91% of class-time was spent standing in the treatment group students, with 3/4 of the students standing 100% of the time they were at their desks. Not surprisingly, students in the treatment group expended .18 more calories per minute than their peers in the control group (that’s an extra 10 calories per hour). The difference between the two groups was even larger among overweight students – overweight children in the treatment group burned 0.38 calories per minute more than overweight students in the control group.
The standing desks also appear to get the thumbs up from teachers and parents:
…interviews with teachers and parents of students in the treatment group indicated a positive effect on child behavior and classroom performance, which is supported by the interviews with teachers and parents of students in the treatment group indicated a positive effect on child behavior and classroomperformance, which is supported by the literature.The majority of parents (70%) whose children were in the treatment classrooms felt that standing in the classroom positively affected their child’s classroom behavior. Ateacher in one of the treatment classrooms stated:
When standing, the students were more focused, and I could keep their attention for longer. . . . I have one student with severe ADHD, and this really helped him academically.
What is the take-home message?
This pilot study suggests that sit-stand desks may be a viable way to reduce sedentary time for young children, without having a deleterious impact on the teaching environment. While the differences in caloric expenditure between the two groups wasn’t enormous, it’s still a step in the right direction. Personally, I am more interested in the impact of sedentary behaviour on markers of cardiometabolic risk (insulin, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, etc), and unfortunately this study did not assess whether there were any differences in these risk factors between groups. But I know there are plans for other, larger studies examining the impact of standing desks in more detail, and hopefully they will begin to assess some of these other risk factors then.
I have included a video below of a similar experiment in Minnesota, which used standing desks with little swings for moving your feet while you stand. That’s something I had never thought of before, but I think it’s a great idea – I’d love to have that option working at my standing desk right now!
If anyone out there has a sit-stand desk for their kids (or in their classroom) I would love to hear about your experience! My wife is a teacher so we discuss this issue quite frequently, and I’d be very interested to hear from a teacher who has tried these out in their classroom.
Benden ME, Blake JJ, Wendel ML, & Huber JC Jr (2011). The impact of stand-biased desks in classrooms on calorie expenditure in children. American journal of public health, 101 (8), 1433-6 PMID: 21421945
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