Re­search Shows Stand­ing Desks Lead to Im­proved BMI

Wellness Update - - Content -

COL­LEGE STA­TION, Texas - Texas A&M re­searchers have shown, for the rst time, ev­i­dence that stand­ing desks in class­rooms can slow the in­crease in ele­men­tary school chil­dren’s body mass in­dex (BMI)—a key in­di­ca­tor of obe­sity— by an av­er­age of 5.24 per­centile points. The re­search was pub­lished to­day in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health.

“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, PhD, CPE, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal and Oc­cu­pa­tional Health at the Texas A&M School of Pub­lic Health and an au­thor of the study. “It’s lit­er­ally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is bene cial for weight con­trol.”

Twenty-four class­rooms at three ele­men­tary schools (eight in each of the three schools) in Col­lege Sta­tion, Texas, 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 uti­lized stan­dard class­room desks. The re­searchers fol­lowed the same stu­dents—193 in all—from the be­gin­ning of third grade to the end of fourth grade. The re­searchers found that the stu­dents who had the stand-biased desks for both years av­er­aged a three per­cent drop in BMI while those in tra­di­tional desks showed the two per­cent 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. In ad­di­tion, there weren’t ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween boys and girls, or be­tween stu­dents of dif­fer­ent races, sug­gest­ing that this in­ter­ven­tion works across de­mo­graphic groups.

“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,” Ben­den said. “In­stead, th­ese types of desks en­cour­age the stu­dents to move in­stead of be­ing forced to sit in poorly tting, hard plas­tic chairs for six or seven hours of their day.”

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies from Ben­den’s lab have shown that chil­dren who stand burn 15 per­cent more calo­ries, on av­er­age, than those who sit in class, but this is the rst study show­ing, over two years, that BMI de­creases over time (ver­sus con­trols) when us­ing a stand-biased desk.

“It is chal­leng­ing to just mea­sure weight loss with chil­dren,” Ben­den said, “be­cause chil­dren are sup- posed to be gain­ing weight as they get older and taller.”

At the be­gin­ning of the study roughly 79 per­cent of the stu­dents were of nor­mal weight cat­e­gory, 12 per­cent were over­weight and nine per­cent were obese, ac­cord­ing to height and weight mea­sure­ments made by the re­searchers. Th­ese are bet­ter num­bers than na­tion­ally, where 14.9 per­cent of chil­dren were over­weight and 16.9 per­cent were obese in 2012. 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 aren’t over­weight main­tain their BMI, while at the same time help those who start out over­weight or obese get to a health­ier weight.

Th­ese desks, de­signed by Ben­den and his team, 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. Th­ese United States-patented desk de­signs are now li­censed to Stand2Learn, which has com­mer­cial­ized the prod­ucts through trans­la­tional re­search fo­cused on mov­ing univer­sity stud­ies to pub­licly avail­able so­lu­tions.

“Sit less, move more,” Ben­den said. “That’s our mes­sage.”

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