Standing Desks for Students

The dangers of sitting and the importance of standing and moving more have been done to death. But much of the focus has zeroed in on the affect sitting has on the health of adults…not so much on children. Past research shows that sitting too much for too long (as children are apt to do in a classroom) can have similar deleterious effects on the health of our kids. Karl Minges of the Yale School of Nursing in Connecticut and his colleagues wrote in the journal Pediatrics that inactivity in children can lead to depression, low self-esteem, poor academic performance, obesity, and diabetes. A recent meta-analysis shows that standing desks may offer a protective benefit for children.

Standing Desks Decrease Sitting Time 

A girl reading a book

Researchers analyzed 8 previously published papers; 4 from the United States, 2 out of New Zealand, 1 from Germany, and 1 that included data from Australia and the United Kingdom. Each study investigated the impact standing desks had on elementary-school students, 8 to 12 years of age on average. The types of standing desks used in the studies ranged from fixed at standing height to adjustable with the option to sit.

Five of the studies tracked standing time. Results showed that standing desks increased the time students spent on their feet by up to 64 minutes a day. Reducing sitting time by more than an hour a day can have a significantly beneficial impact on health!

One of the studies analyzed the effect of standing desks on screen time. Results showed that students who used standing desks cut their overall screen time (watching television and using computers) by 71 minutes a day.

Stand Up for Learning

Researchers at Texas A&M spent two years observing 374 elementary-school students in a classroom. The students were assigned to either a traditional desk or to a standing desk, and equipped with a biometric monitor (like a fit-bit) that tracked measurements such as heart rate, movement intensity, and calories burned. Results showed that students were more active and burnt more calories at the standing desks, particularly students who were overweight and obese.

Researchers unaware of the intent of the study measured student engagement. They tracked how many times students looked at the teacher, how often they wrote on their papers, and how often they were distracted by a neighbor. Results also showed that students were more engaged with learning in activity permissive learning environments that incorporated standing desks.

Mark Benden, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center, explains: “When you look at overweight, and especially obese, children in the study, they were twice as engaged in activity permissive learning environment classrooms. And that amount of engagement was actually higher than normal-weight peers in normal classrooms. And that just doesn’t happen, this was kind of eye opening.”

Citing a limited number of studies indicating obese students may get lower grades than normal-weight students, Benden suggests, “Maybe those overweight kids aren’t less capable academically. Maybe they just need to be more active.”

The takeaway: the same rules apply to kids as to adults: exercising on a regular basis isn’t enough to protect against the dangers of sitting—we must decrease sitting time and increase standing time!