Researchers at Loughborough University installed standing desks at a school in Bradford for eight-months to measure the impact they had on children’s sitting habits and classroom behaviour.
The children, aged nine-to-10, were in control of whether they sat or stood, and were asked to wear monitors for two weeks before the new desks were in place, and again at four months and eight months after the desks had been installed.
The monitors measured sitting time as well as moving from sitting to standing.
After eight months, the children had reduced their sitting time by an average of 60 min (20%) compared to before the new desks were installed.
A similar class in a nearby school was used as a control and did not receive any standing desks. These children’s class time sitting did not change during the study
Compared to the control class, the children who had access to sit-to-stand desks reduced their sitting by approximately 25% at four months and 20% at eight months.
Researcher Aron Sherry, of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS), said: “The findings suggest providing sit-stand desks to every child within a UK primary school classroom can reduce class time sitting throughout most of an academic year.
“Furthermore, positive changes were observed in standing and sit-to-stand transitions during class time at both follow-ups.
“This study was located within a deprived setting with a high proportion of ethnic minorities, making the findings more important in relation to reducing health inequalities.
“The sit–stand desks did not impact negatively on musculoskeletal discomfort, or cognitive function, and were generally well tolerated by pupils and staff.”
The study also looked at changes in behaviour-related mental health, using a questionnaire, completed by the teacher for each student.
It found that behaviour-related mental health scores deteriorated after four months of desk exposure, and then further again after eight months.
Aron said: “This decline does contrast with an interview with the teacher during the study, who suggested that classroom behaviour had improved because the children stayed at the same desk amongst the same students throughout the school day.
“Behaviour related-mental health scores remained stable in a control class throughout the study in a nearby school.”
Researchers also explored child and teacher attitudes, experiences, and behaviours towards the desks.
They found that the standing desks also had implications for teaching methods; teachers were unable to walk around the class when offering help.
Instead, children were asked to come to the front of the class if they needed assistance
“We concluded that the lack of classroom space, due to the stools and chairs blocking walkways, may have contributed to this observed decline in behaviour scores and challenges to teaching practicalities,” said Aron.
“Future standing desk models that enable the stool to be tucked under the desk may prevent such issues occurring.”
He added: “Larger trials, implemented within similar high-priority settings, and using more in-depth qualitative and quantitative measures are needed to better establish whether standing desks using a full desk allocation system are feasible, or effective in UK primary schools.
“This will however depend on the balance between the desired level of standing desk provision – full versus partial allocation – class size, and available budgets.”
The results have been published in the paper, Impacts of a Standing Desk Intervention within an English Primary School Classroom: A Pilot Controlled Trial.