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Standing desks: School children choose to stand in class when given the opportunity, new study finds

  • Providing a standing desk to every primary school child in a UK classroom can reduce sitting time
  • Children who had access to a standing desk reduced their sitting by around 20% over eight months
  • Behaviour-related mental health scores deteriorated after desk exposure, according to teachers’ questionnaires

Providing a standing desk to every primary school child in a UK classroom can reduce sitting time throughout most of the academic year, according to a new study.

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.

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 20/185

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, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

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. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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