Desks that encourage school children to stand in the classroom may reduce their risk of obesity by lowering body mass index (BMI), a new study has claimed.
Researchers have shown, for the first time, evidence that standing desks in classrooms can slow the increase in elementary school children’s BMI – a key indicator of obesity – by an average of 5.24 percentile points.
“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 the children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement,” said Mark Benden from Texas A&M University in the US.
“It is literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Benden.
Twenty-four classrooms at three elementary schools participated in the study. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks (which allow students to sit on a stool or stand at will) and four classrooms in each school acted as a control and utilised standard classroom desks.
Researchers followed the same students – 193 in all – from the beginning of third grade to the end of fourth grade.
They found that the students who had the stand-biased desks for both years averaged a three per cent drop in BMI while those in traditional desks showed the two per cent increase typically associated with getting older.
However, even those who spent just one year in classrooms with stand-biased desks had lower mean BMIs than those students in traditional seated classrooms for their third and fourth grade years, researchers said.
“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 their day,” said Benden.
Previous studies have shown that children who stand burn 15 per cent more calories, on average, than those who sit in class, but this is the first study showing, over two years, that BMI decreases over time when using a stand-biased desk.
At the beginning of the study, roughly 79 per cent of the students were of normal weight category, 12 per cent were overweight and nine per cent were obese, according to height and weight measurements made by researchers.
The fact that the students who started at a healthy weight benefited from stand-biased desks as much as they did might indicate that these desks help students who are not overweight maintain their BMI, while at the same time help those who start out overweight or obese get to a healthier weight, researchers said.
These desks are called stand-biased, not “standing” because they do include a tall stool the students can perch on if they so choose.
They also include a footrest, a vital feature because it allows children to get their lower backs out of tension and reduce leg fatigue to stand more comfortably over time.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.