Design and Test Standing Desks to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Topic Number: 
2

Background: Childhood obesity affects 23 million children in the United States. Seventy percent of overweight and obese youth become overweight and obese adults, which significantly increases the risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems, heart disease, and certain types of cancer (Power, Lake & Cole, 1997; Dietz, 1998). Most school-based childhood obesity interventions target some aspect of energy balance—either reducing the calories consumed by removing soda machines in schools or providing healthy meal choices, or by increasing physical activity through recess, physical education classes, after school, or weekend programs. Although physical education and recess time will help address the issue, a process to engage in physical activity during the entire duration of the school day may provide additional benefits (see description of winnable battles, obesity, at HYPERLINK "http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/causes/index.html" \t "_blank"http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/causes/index.html ). Results from a pilot study of 71 first-graders in five classrooms showed a 17% increase in calories burned for the treatment group compared to control group (p = 0.022). Children whose weight was higher than the 85th percentile for their age group and gender showed a 32% increase in calories burned (1.56 kcal/min vs. 1.18 kcal/min). Research conducted in work settings has used dynamic environments as well, including a stand/sit workstation, to reduce weight and improve productivity, which suggests that this may translate to children’s school environments with similar effects.

Public Health Impact: Standing desks for schools children may provide a relatively low-cost, low-effort method of combating childhood obesity in an institutional setting in which most American children spend a great deal of time. Schools and school districts could be encouraged to purchase standing desks for their classrooms based on increased calorie burn, increased academic performance, and improved behavior in the classroom. For example, after learning of the pilot study’s success in five classrooms, the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District in south Texas decided to purchase standing desks for four new elementary schools and one new middle school in the next few years. As new schools are built and older schools are renovated, districts may consider standing workstations as better alternatives to traditional classroom furniture.

Examples of specific research areas of interest include, but are not limited to: Develop a standing desk (workstation) for use in elementary school classrooms as a strategy to change the physical environment to prevent childhood obesity. Characteristics of an effective desk include usability, comfort, likeability for students and teachers, and sustained across a variety of classroom types. Ideally a well designed standing desk would increase students’ caloric burn, decrease body fat percentage and body mass index, and improve academic performance.