Standing Desks – Not Just For Adults Anymore

The AlphaBetter Standing Desk

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. A
teacher 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.

Travis

ResearchBlogging.orgBenden 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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12 Responses to Standing Desks – Not Just For Adults Anymore

  1. Rui says:

    While the standing desks are an awsome idea, getting them to work might not be easy.. I work in a computer lab and have been thinking about this standing desk idea a lot. Specially considering that so often I need to give a big leg stretch or have back pain..

    However, several points hold me back from even suggesting to the “boss” that we could get standing desks. Although he wouldn’t hold me back from doing whatever I want with my desk, it would not seem like a good idea to have a standing desk right in the middle of all other regular desks.. Then it is the limited money for purchasing desks. And also, I bet that most people at the lab wouldn’t be very happy about having standing desks.

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  2. Jojo says:

    What a great idea. I’ve heard about standing desks being used in several of my local schools (Pennsylvania) for kids with ADHD. My coworker’s son has one and his behavior has really improved. How awesome is it that something that can help kids be healthier is also something that helps improve behavior.

    RUI, one of my coworkers has an adjustable desk to accommodate a serious back injury that she sustained at work. I admit, it took a little getting used to because I sit right behind her computer monitor and it felt like she was staring at me a lot of the time. After a few weeks however, I got used to it and don’t even notice it anymore.

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  3. thomas says:

    so if we are talking short term gains like the study suggests already, are all the mid and long term affects of standing still all day clear by now?
    what side effects are people who stand a lot (e.g. chefs?) developing? and they would still move around A LOT more than someone in a computer lab.

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  4. Rui says:

    JOJO yeah, I really need to find one of those. Very often I feel really tired of being contracted all day… and my back… sheesh

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  5. Beck says:

    Reply to Thomas – I used to work as a chef – it doesn’t do nice things to your body when you stand all day, plus many repetitive actions = RSI! Also the older waitresses used to complain about varicose veins, I might be wrong but I think they can be caused by standing still for long periods.

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  7. Reegor says:

    I “built” a standing desk simply by purchasing a small table of the right size and cutting its legs off. It perches on top of the regular desk, and there’s enough clearance that I can use the old one if I want to sit.
    I like the “fidget swing” concept – there must be many variations of that idea.

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  8. WRG says:

    The idea sounds interesting, but I really think it needs some further study and some tweeking. I suspect that standing on a hard surface for long periods of time can be very wearing on the body. If schools and workplaces were to bring in standing desks, they would have to think about either mini-carpets, such as the ones used by cashiers, or installing new kinds of flooring, like cork.

    Standing desks do not suit people with certain disabilities either. They can’t be introduced across the board without ensuring that accommodations are provided for “outliers”.

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  10. maxh says:

    Standing for long periods of the day may well be better for you, but good footwear is a must. Standing all day in comfy trainers may be possible. But what about pumps or office shoes? I work as a waitress and we must wear Converse style plimsoles. After 8 hours my feet ache and my knees are on fire. And then my back starts aching and I’m just dying for a sit down! Although presumably 10 year olds aren’t as broken as me. I don’t know what will happen when I start my vet nursing training in a month – even more standing!

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    • thomas says:

      just out of curiosity, started working as a waitress just recently or can’t your body/feet/legs adjust to the standing/walking?

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      • maxh says:

        I had odd growth spurts when I was growing as well as ice skating competitively so my knees came under quite a bit of stress and never really recovered. Even now 15 years later they can twinge uite badly.

        Anyhoo, this all means that weight bearing becomes quite painful after a few hours unless I’m wearing super supportive shoes.

        Walking is no problem!

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