Standing desks may help against obesity

March 17, 2011

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. Obese children are at high risk for bone and joint problems, heart disease and diabetes. Now, a Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health researcher offers a possible solution.

Dr. Mark Benden

Dr. Mark Benden

Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, assistant professor at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health, is studying how children can stand at their school desks to increase physical activity. Conducting a pilot study over the past year in first-grade classrooms of College Hills Elementary School in College Station, he measured the effects of using standing-height desks in classrooms. Preliminary findings not only indicate higher levels of calorie expenditure in students with the stand-biased desks, but also show increased attentiveness.

The study is currently online and is expected to be in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“Students in classrooms with the standing-height desks are choosing to stand more than two-thirds of the time and are burning an average of 17 percent more calories overall than their classmates in traditional seated classrooms,” Dr. Benden said. “More importantly, overweight and obese students are burning 32 percent more calories while working at standing desks than their peers who work in traditional seated classrooms.”

In addition to increasing physical activity, teachers in these classrooms note that standing desks seem to increase alertness and attentiveness of students while decreasing disruptive behavior.

Dr. Benden says if the desks are proven to have a positive impact on children’s weight as well as classroom performance, this may be a viable strategy for addressing obesity while improving academic achievement in schools across the district, state and nation. Currently, he is analyzing second-year data from fall 2010 through spring 2011. Additionally, two U.S. patent-pending desk designs, derived from lessons learned in the classroom study, are undergoing commercialization efforts this summer.

Contributing to the AJPH study from the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health were Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., director of the Center for Community Health Development, and John C. Huber, Ph.D., M.A., assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. Jamilia Blake, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational psychology at Texas A&M University, also contributed.

The study is supported by the United Way of the Brazos Valley, the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the Center for Community Health Development, and Artco-Bell Inc.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell