Standing Desks at School

Can standing desks fix childhood obesity, school behavior problems, and more?

Standing desks in a school classroom
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Maybe you've heard proponents of standing desks make the alarming suggestion that "sitting is the new smoking." We'd never hand our kids a pack of cigarettes and encourage them to take a puff, so does that mean we should be taking away our kids' desk chairs, too?

What Standing Desks Can Do

The case is pretty strong. Research has shown some big benefits to standing while working, listening, and learning.

  • More calorie burning: In one study, kids who used standing work stations (which gave them the opportunity to either stand or use a tall, backless stool; researchers call these "stand-biased desks") burned 15 percent more calories than students at traditional desks. For obese kids, this effect was more pronounced: They burned 25 percent more calories. This kind of extra energy expenditure is one way to prevent and treat childhood obesity.
  • Better attention and behavior: Teachers report that kids at standing desks listen better and are more engaged in their lessons. Engaged kids answer questions, raise their hands before speaking, and don't talk out of turn.
  • Less sedentary time: A review of eight research studies on the topic concluded that "this strategy has the potential to reduce sitting time and increase standing time among elementary schoolchildren." That matters because too much sedentary time can have negative health consequences, like a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

    Drawbacks to Standing Desks

    The main benefits of standing desks come from the extra movement that happens naturally when kids are standing instead of sitting. If they just stand very still, the experience is pretty similar to sitting in a chair.

    And, if kids are doing a task that requires fine motor skills (like writing, or cutting with scissors), they might be better off sitting, says Alan Hedge​, a professor in the department of design and environment analysis at Cornell University.

    It's just how the brain works.

    Make the Most of Standing Desks in School

    If your child has a standing desk in his classroom, or his school is considering it, here's how to make sure it's doing its job.

    First, it shouldn't be an all-day, every-day thing. Kids should spend some time standing, some time sitting, and some time moving freely (like during recess, gym class, or brain breaks).

    Second, the desk should have a foot rest, or better yet, a "fidget bar." This is a moving bar under the desk that kids can swivel, so they're moving without disturbing anyone else. A bar like this, or a foot rest—or even a small foot stool—makes standing more comfortable and ergonomic.

    If you're interested in trying to get standing desks for your child's classroom or school, check out StandUp Kids. This nonprofit group has a mission to get standing desks for every public school student in the U.S.

    Sources:

    Mehta RK, Shortz AE, and Benden ME. Standing Up for Learning: A Pilot Investigation on the Neurocognitive Benefits of Stand-Biased School Desks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol 13 No 1, January 2016.

    Dornhecker M, Blake JJ, et al. The effect of stand-biased desks on academic engagement: an exploratory study. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, Vol 53 no 5, 2015.

    Minges KE, Chao AM, et al. Classroom Standing Desks and Sedentary Behavior: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics, Vol 136 No 2, February 2016.

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