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Sit-stand desks in classrooms - the solution for childhood obesity?

school-obesity_blogChildhood obesity is a real problem in the UK. In this post we explore whether having sit-stand desks in classrooms could help reverse what experts are describing as a pandemic

In September Jamie Oliver publicly slammed Prime Minister Teresa May for 'failing' to adequately tackle childhood obesity in Britain.

While the government did announce plans to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks, other ideas were rejected. These include tighter regulation of junk food advertising and the banning of sugary treats at supermarket checkouts.

The TV chef said: “It’s the same old bull. And the same old bull hasn’t worked for 20 years. And it was done when they were all on holiday, in August. It just means ‘don’t care, don’t care, don’t care, get it under the radar. It’s a travesty.

“She’s completely let every child in Britain down, let parents down, everyone has been let down."

Childhood obesity in the UK - what's going on?

The latest stats say one in 10 children are obese when they start primary school. By the time they leave for secondary school that increases to one in five.

According to the NHS, if we carry on as we are, 90% of today's children could be overweight or obese by 2050.

This is bad news not only for the children themselves, but for the overall productivity and economy of the country as these children reach working age. According to research, obese children are more likely to be ill and absent from school. They also require more medical care and they're more likely to be obese as adults with a higher risk of disability and premature death.

Childhood obesity is linked to a huge range of health problems, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea (sleep disturbance)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Psychological / mental health disorders
  • Musculoskeletal disorders.

According to Cancer Research UK, obesity is the UK's second largest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. The question is: what can we do about it?

The role of physical activity in tackling childhood obesity

Jamie Oliver famously revolutionised school dinners in Britain, but nutrition is just one risk factor when it comes to childhood obesity.

It's the age of technology and children are spending increasing amounts of time fixed to their consoles, computers, tablets and TV screens instead of running around outside.

Combine this sedentary lifestyle with the abundance of fatty, sugary snacks targeted at children - and what you end up with is a deadly mix.

Can sit-stand desks help?

There have been numerous studies looking at sit-stand desks and weight loss. More recently a study was published in the US looking at how sit-stand desks affect children in classrooms.

The study enlisted 24 teachers and 380 students. Classrooms were randomly assigned either regular static desks, or sit-stand desks that could be adjusted to sitting or standing height. Over a two year period the children's BMIs were calculated. The researchers found that compared to students using static desks, the children with the sit-stand desks saw their BMI decrease by 5 percentiles on average.

The man behind the study - Mark Benden of the Texas A&M School of Public Health, told Reuter's Health: “If you look at the national trends, we’re more sedentary than ever before, and naturally that affects weight gain. Standing desks bring a difference to the classroom that doesn’t take away from classroom time.”

While sit-stand desks aren't exercise machines (the calorie burn when standing is only slightly higher than when sitting), the simple act of standing regularly throughout the day can increase physical activity levels over time.

Benden said: “We force kids to sit down, sit still and be quiet, and this is unnatural for young children. If we want kids to sit less and move more, we should encourage activity in the learning process.”

The cost of installing sit-stand desks for thousands of schoolchildren will undoubtedly prevent many schools from taking this important step - at least until there is more solid research into the health benefits of sit-stand desks.

We will continue innovating and researching in this area of ergonomics with the hope that one day all individuals in offices, schools, universities and other naturally sedentary establishments will have access to sit-stand desks.

Obesity costs the UK economy near to £16 billion every year. If we can start tackling the problem early on in schools by using sit-stand desks as part of a larger health initiative, then perhaps we'll be able to save not only money, but future lives too.

To find out more about how sit-stand desks can help increase the health, concentration and productivity of users, please go to our active working page. 

Otherwise, feel free to browse our range of sit-stand desks available for all budgets and requirements.