A stand-biased desk similar to those used in many classrooms (Staff photo)

A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting for prolonged periods can be bad for your health, leading to weight gain and obesity. When you consider how long our children sit down in class when they’re at school, it starts to make sense why childhood obesity rates are so high in the U.S.

Many experts have suggested that schools could benefit from standing desks -- tall working areas that would get students out of their chairs. A new study validates these assertions, showing that standing desks could provide both academic and health benefits to the children that use them.

“Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement. It’s literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Dr. Mark Benden, one of the authors of the study.

Healthier outcomes

The “hard data” that the researchers gathered came from experiments conducted in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in College Station, Texas. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks -- which allowed students to either sit on a high stool or stand – and four were left as standard, controlled classrooms.

Participating students were followed over the course of two school years to see if the stand-biased desks had any effect on their weight or academic achievement. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that students with stand-biased desks had a 3% drop in BMI compared to students who gained the typical 2% in BMI due to aging.

Students who only spent one year with a stand-biased desk also benefitted from the experience, showing a lower mean BMI than students who never used them at all. Researchers attribute these results to encouraging active movement during class time.

“Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to ‘sit down,’ or ‘sit still’ during class. Instead, these types of desks encourage the students to move instead of being forced to sit in poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for six or seven hours of the day,” said Benden.

"Sit less, move more"

Benden and his colleagues had conducted previous studies showing that standing can allow a person to burn 15% more calories when compared to those who sit down. The results of this study seem to corroborate those findings, which could help keep our children healthy in the long run.

“Sit less, move more. That’s our message,” concluded Brenden. The full study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health

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