Loughborough study reveals standing desks in schools could help tackle sedentary behaviour
How best to combat sedentary behaviour (prolonged sitting) in primary schools and encourage children to become more active has formed the basis of two new pilot studies in the UK and Australia.
Led by researchers at Loughborough University, in partnership with the Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR), the Stand Out in Class study introduced a bank of six specialist Ergotron sit-to-stand desks in Year 5 classrooms (ages 9-10) in Bradford – a city with high levels of deprivation and childhood morbidity. Findings of this study were compared to a similar study conducted in Melbourne, Australia, where all standard desks in Year 6 classrooms (ages 11-12) were replaced with sit-to-stand desks.
Lifestyle health-related behaviours in childhood typically track into adulthood. But by changing environments associated with prolonged periods of sitting, such as the classroom, researchers believe sit-to-stand desks have the potential to change behaviour in younger generations.
The Stand Out in Class findings showed that it may not be necessary to replace all standard desks with sit-to-stand desks. For example, in the Bradford study, over a nine-week period, 27 pupils were exposed to the sit-to-stand desks once a day for at least one hour, resulting in a reduction in their classroom sitting time of 52 minutes a day on average. The pupils’ step count also increased significantly.
In comparison, in the Melbourne study, over a 10-week period, 26 pupils were exposed to sit-to-stand desks for the entire duration, and were initially encouraged to stand for at least one 30-minute class per day and to increase this gradually over the weeks. As a result, the pupils’ classroom sitting time reduced by 44 minutes a day, but there was no change recorded in their step count.
These findings could be attributed to the fact that the Bradford children had to move around the classroom more in order to use the six specialist desks. This desk rotation exercise appears to encourage more movement in class and suggests that by introducing a limited number of sit-to-stand desks in the classroom, this could help increase children’s in-class activity levels.
Previous studies have shown that children in developed countries spend more than 65% of their waking hours sedentary (or sitting). This is a worrying trend which has been linked to a wide range of health problems including obesity, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
Lead researcher Dr Stacy Clemes from Loughborough’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS), said: “Sitting down for prolonged periods is bad for your health, but in the classroom and the workplace this has become the norm.
“Our studies show that both sets of pupils spent a high proportion of their day sitting, which was particularly evident in the Bradford sample, where pupils sat for just under 10 hours a day, which is equivalent to 70% of their total waking hours.
“An urgent cultural shift is needed, and we feel that the only way to do this is to target the next generation of workers, particularly while they are still at school. If we can bring about a behaviour change, which we learn from a young age, then this will hopefully continue into adulthood and improve people’s overall quality of health.”
Pete Segar, CEO of Ergotron, the United States-based company responsible for donating the sit-to-stand desks used in this study, said: “The most important actions to address the global childhood obesity epidemic are improving diet and increasing activity with methods practical for a school to adopt.
“While standing may seem like a simple act when compared to larger global health and fitness initiatives, the reality – and what we believe is key here – is that standing desks designed so students can fluidly adjust to a height ideal for their bodies, like the ones used in this study, are a vehicle for increasing regular, low-impact physical activity.
“The desks allow students to move more, in turn increasing blood circulation, heart rate, calorie expenditure, even helping maintain muscle tone and insulin effectiveness. It’s also very encouraging that additional studies have shown improvements in student behaviour, engagement and academic performance.”
The Stand Out in Class study has been published in the Journal of Public Health and is available to view here.
The Bradford collaborators on this project are funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Notes for editors
Press release reference number: PR 15/140
 Steele RM, van Sluijs EM, Cassidy A et al. Targeting sedentary time or moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity: independent relations with adiposity in a population-based sample of 10-year-old British children. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:1185–92.
Abbott RA, Straker LM, Mathiassen SE. Patterning of children’s sedentary time at and away from school. Obesity 2013;21:E131–3.
Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.
It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.
In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.
Founded in 2007, the Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR) has created a distinctive ethos and environment for conducting high-quality applied health research that makes a difference. Part of the local NHS and embedded in the Bradford multi-ethnic community, BIHR conducts world-leading research in partnership with universities.
Ergotron, Inc., a subsidiary of Nortek, Inc., is a global manufacturer of leading digital display mounting, furniture, and mobility products that have been improving the human interface with digital displays for over 30 years. Ergotron's products incorporate patented CF lift and pivot motion technology to achieve less effort and more ergonomic motion for a healthier and more interactive user experience when viewing any digital display. Whether to enhance computing wellness or entertainment excitement, improve workplace productivity or create business process efficiencies, Ergotron's products are positioning your digital world. Ergotron is headquartered in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with sales efforts in Phoenix, Amersfoort, London, Tokyo, and Singapore.