Standing Desks at School May Limit Childhood Obesity

Posted 10/03/2016 | By HealthCorps

The researchers at Texas A&M have strong evidence that use of standing desks in classrooms can help to slow down body mass index increases at the elementary school level, by about 5.24 percentile points. Currently, the BMI measurement is used to identify obesity. The new study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that standing desks could be a powerful tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Standing desks can also help teachers to “manage the classroom,” allowing fidgety kids to stand and also allowing for unique student engagement.

The study involved twenty four classrooms at three elementary schools. At each school that participated, four classrooms were set up with standing desks, which allowed the students to either sit on a stool or stand whenever the student wanted, and four classrooms in the same school had traditional desks. The researchers followed all 193 participating students from the beginning of third grade to the end of fourth grade.

Students who used the standing desks for the full two years overall had a 3% drop in BMI, compared to the traditional desk users who had a 2% increase in BMI. The increase in BMI (in the sitting group) paced with the expected trajectory of weight increase in one year, at that age. Even the students who only used the standing desks for one year had lower mean BMIs than the students who sat for the full two years. There were no noticeable differences in the findings between genders or students of different races.

The notion of using standing desks is part of a teaching approach called APLE or Activity Permissive Learning Environment. Teachers don’t tell students to sit or be still during class, and the desks encourage kids to move more instead of being asked to remain silent and quiet in uncomfortable plastic molded chairs.

At the beginning of the study, 79 percent of the students were normal weight, 12 percent were overweight, and 9 percent of the students were obese. Those numbers are actually better than the national average which in 2012 showed 14.9 percent of students overweight and 16.9 percent of students obese. Even students who were normal weight benefitted from the standing desks. Of course, those who were overweight or obese were able to reverse the expected weight gains, based on the study results.

The desks used in this study were actually called stand-based not standing, because they did also have a tall stool that the kids could perch on if they wanted to. The desks also featured a foot rest, allowing students to sit with better posture alignment when they chose to rest. A commercial version of the desk, Stand2learn is now being manufactured.

The clear message from the study is “sit less, move more,” especially during the many school hours when sedentary time can accumulate.

Some of the more important health calendar observances this month include:

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
National Bullying prevention Month
Eye Injury Prevention Month

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