Britain is sceptical about sit-stand guidelines, new study reveals

By now we've all heard that 'sitting is the new smoking', but how many of us actually believe it? According to a study published today, many Brits still remain doubtful that standing more at work will have any positive or realistic impact on their lives. 


A study carried out by King's College London, Brunel University London and the Anglia Ruskin University reveals that there is widespread confusion, misunderstanding and misapprehension when it comes to the new UK guidance on sedentary behaviour.

What does the public health guidance say about standing at work?

The first 'official' UK guidelines on sedentary behaviour were laid out by a panel of experts commissioned in 2015 by Public Health England. These were published to counteract growing concerns over the health implications of sitting too much, and they state that office workers should:

  • Get at least two hours a day of standing and light walking during office hours with the aim of increasing to four.
  • Break up seated tasks with regular standing breaks, and vice-versa.
  • Shift posture and position regularly to avoid musculoskeletal problems.
  • Employers should raise awareness about the negative impacts of sitting - including risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature death.

What do people think of the advice?

Scientists funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) analysed 573 public comments posted beneath six major UK news sites: the Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph, Independent and the Daily Mirror.

Lead author Dr. Benamin Gardner said: "Although these comments may not necessarily represent the views of the general public, they provide a valuable glimpse into responses that may face employers or public health professionals who try to encourage people to stand more in the workplace.

"These insights are important because public opinion is inextricably linked to the success of public health campaigns."

They found that the predominantly negative responses fitted into three main categories:

First category:

These people questioned the credibility and practicality of the health guidance. Some of these people voiced concern about the knowledge and experience of the authors, while others criticised the impracticality of the guidance, doubting that these guidelines could be reasonably followed in their own workplace because their managers prioritised productivity over employee health (and therefore would penalise those who left their desks).

Second category:

These people questioned the credibility of public health more broadly, questioning hidden motives such as financial interest (like increasing the sales of sit-stand desks).

Third category:

These people offered their own advice based on personal experience. The researchers described these as 'citizen scientists'.

Commenting on the results, co-author Dr. Louise Mansfield said: "The findings show that if you don’t involve people for whom an intervention is intended and it’s not an acceptable or feasible intervention - it won’t work. Exploring experiences of the widest range of stakeholders is important to any campaign."

Using scepticism to resist change

While it is natural and healthy to question health advice that comes from any source, it is important too that we don't use scepticism as an excuse to resist change. The public health guidance on sedentary behaviour at work is based on all available evidence, including long-term epidemiological studies examining the effects of sedentary behaviour and how standing more can change that.

The quality of each study was ranked using the American College of Sports Medicine system to ensure only the highest quality evidence was used. The research was also externally peer reviewed and other external experts were drawn in to help prepare the recommendations.

The panel also acknowledged that the guidelines will need continual development as more research is published on this critical subject.

While we are a company that sells sit-stand desks among thousands of other preventative ergonomic products, we are also a company that employs a range of experienced health professionals to ensure the products we recommend and the advice we give is as accurate and beneficial as possible. If we can't demonstrably improve people's working conditions then we can't function as a business - so for us quality health advice always has to come first.

At Posturite we do advocate active working and we do advocate the use of sit-stand desks. We have even produced a business case for the benefits of sit-stand working, drawing on numerous studies and our own expertise to back up our claims.

Changing to an active working environment can be challenging but the benefits really are huge and our consultants can be on hand to guide you through this process as smoothly as possible. To find out more, please register your interest and we'll be in touch.