Should Height-Adjustable Desks Be Considered Medical Supplies Now?

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The word is out; sitting all day at work can lead to an early death. The major news media outlets are reporting out the results of numerous studies from the medical journals. Research scientists are concluding as a result of these studies that sitting all day at work leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.  

So if sitting at work can lead to early death, should those things that help us stand up more be considered medical supplies now?

For example, if a height-adjustable desk can allow a person to stand while at work, it could reduce that person's risk for what is now being called "sitting disease." 

In fact, the term "sitting disease" has been coined since the late 2000's by Dr. James A. Levine, of the Mayo Clinic. Levine authored and published Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You & What You Can Do About It and Move A Little, Lose A Lot.

But I Exercise Before/After Work. Doesn't That Help?

No.

According to Dr. Levine's research, and several other studies that are reporting out now, sitting at your desk all day actually reverses or negates any exercise you do outside of work. In fact, some studies suggest that not only does 8 hours of sitting negate the 1 to 2 hours a day a person may be working out, but the time we spend sitting still overpowers any gains we think we've made during exercise.

This realization is the news that has scientists, doctors, and lay people worried.

Previously, we thought we could overcome our sedentary lifestyle at the office if we stick to our exercise regimen. Now, the science shows that is not the case.

This is the kind of helplessness that brings fear.

Is My Desk A Medical Supply Now?

I wonder. Maybe I'm the first person to ask the question.

Maybe one day the answer will be, "Of course it is."

The reason I ask is, if sitting disease exists, and studies show that it does, then shouldn't the tools we have at our disposal be considered a medical supply?

If a height-adjustable desk in our cubicle or office or classroom empowers us to stand while working, and standing enables better health by preventing the ravages of sitting disease, then should a height-adjustable desk be medical supply, and perhaps moved into the responsibility of human resources and occupational health officers? These job functions, along with every business leader really, have the responsibility to do what they can to provide a healthy environment in the workplace.

When asbestos was linked to cancer, asbestos was removed from the workplace at great expense. Construction companies ceased building with it.

Now, sitting for most of an eight-hour workday has been linked to cancer. Should the same actions be taken immediately? Get employees and students standing up?

The Proof

Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Aviroop Biswas, BSc; Paul I. Oh, MD, MSc; Guy E. Faulkner, PhD; Ravi R. Bajaj, MD; Michael A. Silver, BSc; Marc S. Mitchell, MSc; and David A. Alter, MD, PhD

Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651 

The above article links to a meta analysis, that is, an analysis of multiple studies. The criteria for this meta analysis were studies that examined sedentary adults, controlled for physical activity, and resulted in at least one health outcome.

Forty seven studies met the criteria. Fourteen studies cardiovascular disease and diabetes, fourteen studied cancer, and thirteen studied all-cause mortality.

The resulting conclusion after analyzing all 47 studies was that hazardous health outcomes, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality were the result of prolonged sitting.

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