Standing desks: Effective in the fight against childhood obesity
The prevalence of childhood obesity has spread at an alarming rate over the past several decades and currently serves as a significant threat to healthy physiological, behavioral and psychological child development. Due to these major health concerns, targeted prevention and management for childhood obesity has become a prominent focus in public health research and practice. As there are many factors contributing to obesity, treatment has been expanded to school environments in order to expose all children to the idea of a healthy lifestyle.
Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently conducted a study in which stand-biased desks were introduced in elementary classrooms in an effort to combat childhood obesity. Research findings are the subject of a recent article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Stand-biased desks are passive, low-risk classroom interventions that allow students to sit or stand during lecture time at their discretion. With these standing workstations, children have the opportunity to increase physical activity and caloric expenditure, as well as to relieve stress on spinal structures that may occur with traditional desks.
Approximately 500 elementary students in the College Station Independent School District participated in either control (seated) or stand-biased desk classrooms. The researchers used Sensewear® devices to measure children’s step count and energy expenditure. Each participant was asked to wear the device for five consecutive school days, and each classroom was measured for one week in both the fall and spring semesters. While the participants wore the device all day, the main goal was to measure whether the stand-biased desks made any impact during the traditional lecture time spent with students at their desks.
The findings from the study indicate that the implementation of stand-biased desks had a statistically significant and positive impact on the amount of calories burned.
“The students at stand-biased desks burned 15 percent more calories during the study period than students at traditional desks, and obese children at standing desks increased their calorie use by 25 percent,” Benden said. “Teachers also reported that students at stand-biased desks had an increased level of engagement during lecture time.”
Benden added that the stools that pair with the desks are better for students’ posture and blood flow as opposed to traditional plastic chairs, and the desks even eased back pain in teachers since they were not forced to bend over to help students.
As a result, researchers are hopeful that stand-biased desks may be a potential intervention for childhood obesity that is relatively non-distracting to classroom lecture time.
Obesity rates before and after the second year of the intervention and student engagement levels will be the subject of subsequent publications from this research. Currently, Benden is conducting a two-year study on high school students to find out whether or not they fatigue from using the standing desks. These students wear monitoring devices around the clock to measure their bodies’ response to standing desks both day and night.
Additional Texas A&M researchers include Hongwei Zhao, Ph.D., Christina Jeffrey, and Jamilia Blake, Ph.D., and from the University of Louisville, Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H.