The case for equipping every classroom with standing desks

Put a kid at that desk and someone’s gonna make a fortune.
Put a kid at that desk and someone’s gonna make a fortune.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Now that office workers have been indoctrinated about the health benefits of standing desks, health researchers have moved onto a new target: kids.

Texas A&M associate professor Mark Benden recently tested standing desks using hundreds of elementary school students and measured changes in their calorie expenditure and classroom engagement. The study has been peer-reviewed and will likely be published during the fall in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Benden tells Quartz.

The kids at standing desks burned between 15% to 25% more calories during the school day than the ones who remained sitting, and based on observation they were more engaged, Benden says. The desks allowed the students to move around and made it easier for teachers to group students together to interact. Even when children decided to sit, they sat on stools deemed good for their posture and blood flow, as opposed to the plastic chairs designed more for stacking convenience than for biomedical engineering, Benden says.

For obese students the desks had an even bigger impact, increasing calorie use by up to the 25% to 35%, Benden said. The follow on, Benden said, is that standing desks could help combat childhood obesity (heavier people naturally burn more calories when performing the same activities as lighter people).

The standing desks even ended up easing back pain in teachers’ backs, because they didn’t have to bend over to help students. That was just a lucky side effect, Benden says.

One concern with standing desks for children is that they would tire them out. Benden is conducting a two-year study on high school students to find out (the devices used were too expensive to use on younger children). In the study, high schoolers wear the device that measures body response their body’s response all day and night, as opposed to just during school hours like the elementary students. So far, says Benden, the students are benefitting without getting home and “crash[ing] on the couch.”

The other potential problem with standing desks for schools is cost, which currently range between $335 and $500. The solution there, says Benden, might be a standing desk for two.