Standing desks in schools linked to decrease in BMI percentile

Using standing-based desks, as opposed to traditional sit-down desks, in classrooms for 2 consecutive years resulted in a significant decrease in BMI percentile, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Given that a vast majority of children spend between 7 and 9 hours, of their 14 to 16 hours awake time, at school each day, many public health initiatives, such as the National Football League’s ‘Play 60’ and Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign, have focused on schools as a key setting for obesity-related interventions,” Monica L. Wendel, DrPH, MA, of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, in Kentucky, and colleagues wrote. “… A greater focus on standardized test scores has created pressure on teachers and administrators, and contributed to decreased requirements for students to participate in physical activity during the school day. This situation has also led to significant amounts of prolonged sedentary behaviors among students, and these behaviors are associated with a significant risk of chronic disease and measurable metabolic challenges.”

To determine the changes in BMI percentiles among children in third and fourth grades in classrooms with standing desks, compared with those with traditional seating, the researchers recorded the height and weight of 380 students in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in Texas. The 2-year study stretched from the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, to the end of the 2012-2013 year.

In each of the participating schools, control classrooms were left unchanged, with traditional, sitting-style desks. Treatment classrooms were outfitted completely with standing desks and accompanying stools, provided by Stand2learn LLC. Researchers reported to each of the classrooms in the first semester of the academic year to record students’ height, weight, gender, birth date and age. Data collection was repeated at the conclusion of the study, late in the spring semester.

According to the researchers, after adjusting for grade, race/ethnicity and gender, there was a statistically significantly decrease in BMI percentile among students who used standing desks for 2 consecutive years, with mean BMI increasing by 0.1 kg/m2 for the treatment group and 0.4 kg/m2 in the control group. The estimated difference in BMI percentile change between the treatment and control groups was 5.24 (SD = 2.5, P = .037). There were no significant differences between the group that used standing desks for 2 consecutive years and the two other groups in which student used standing desks for only 1 year. No other covariates had a statistically significant impact on BMI percentile changes.

“Research solely based on 2 hours of instructional time each day indicates that stand-biased classrooms have measurable effects on elementary school students,” Wendel and colleagues wrote. “Considering the increase in seated instructional time as students move to higher grade levels, the potential impact could be even greater among secondary school students.” – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: Wendel reports no relevant financial disclosures. See the full study for other author disclosures.

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