Standing desks have been one of those inventions that have long had their champions, yet stubbornly avoided mainstream adoption. Most of the time, when the desks are discussed it’s around their value to the workplace, and in particular the health of employees.
A recent study set out to explore whether the desks would have a similar impact if placed in schools. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that deployment of standing desks could slow down the increase of a child’s BMI by over 5%.
“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,” says Mark Benden, an associate professor in environmental and occupational health at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and an author of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study, completed across three Texan schools, saw twenty four classrooms fitted with the standing desks, with other classrooms equipped as per normal to act as the control group.
Each of the 193 students was then followed through third and fourth grade to monitor changes in their BMI. Whilst those in the control group saw a 2% rise in their BMI, those in the standing classrooms saw their BMI drop by 3%.
What’s more, the gains were consistent across both boys and girls, and between students of different races.
“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,” the researchers say. “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 their day.”
It’s believed that standing during the day results in 15% more calories being burned than when we sit all day, but this is the first study to quantify changes in BMI as a result of persistent standing desk usage. The BMI measurement was important because, of course, children will naturally gain weight as they age and grow.
The study reminds us that the benefits of being even moderately more active, even if we’re healthy to begin with, can be considerable.
Whilst standing desks have gained more traction in the workplace, a number of groups are trying to encourage their use in the classroom too. Foremost among these is StandupKids, who pioneered the use of standing desks in a partnership with a school in California last year.
“Once there is one standing classroom in action, teachers, students, and parents alike see that the desks create a more dynamic classroom environment, are individually adjusted to each child, and are healthier and better for kids,” they said at the time.
Whilst the difficulty standing desks have had in gaining acceptance in the workplace should provide a salutary lesson, the group hope to eventually have standing desks in every classroom. It will be fascinating to see just how successful they prove to be.