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Standing Desks Fighting Obesity, Boosting Attention Spans In More US Classrooms

Benjamin Fearnow
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Standing desks may soon become a standard part of U.S. classrooms as recent studies have shown the workplace health trend increases students paying attention boosts efforts in the fight against childhood obesity. (credit: Getty Images)

Standing desks may soon become a standard part of U.S. classrooms as recent studies have shown the workplace health trend increases students paying attention boosts efforts in the fight against childhood obesity. (credit: Getty Images)

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Bryan, Texas (CBS HOUSTON) –  Standing desks may soon become a standard part of U.S. classrooms as recent studies have shown the workplace health trend increases students paying attention boosts efforts in the fight against childhood obesity.

A CDC-funded study of four central Texas fourth grade classrooms found that students in standing-desk classrooms chose to stand for most of the class period while expending 11 more calories per hour and 300 more calories per week than their sitting peers. Overweight students burned 23 more calories per hour and 575 more per week than their seated counterparts.

In addition to health benefits, researchers and teachers alike have noted increased energy levels of the classroom, more focus and a positive impact on student behavior.

Bryan Collegiate High School principal Christina Richardson told Education Week, “The kids who would normally be slouched down, half-asleep or fidgeting in their chair were now standing up and paying attention.”

Mark Benden, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M University, started the study in 2011. The study used arm bands to measure calorie-burning in students at the standing desks and those at the sitting desks. Students who stood burned off 11 more calories per hour than those who remained sitting. Students in higher than the 85th percentile for weight—classified as overweight or obese—burned 32 more calories than while sitting.

Richardson said that most students chose the standing desks instead of using stools.

“Teachers felt the kids were more alert,” she told District Administration. “The kids who would normally be slouched down, half-asleep or fidgeting in their chair were now standing up and paying attention.” The high school has since requested additional standing desks from Benden because teachers have expressed their desire to try them in their classrooms.

Monica Wendel, a co-author of the study, told the Chicago Tribune it wasn’t surprising students chose to stand.

“Most students want to be standing, to be moving,” she said. “They don’t want to sit still – it’s against their nature. We are the ones who teach them to be sedentary.”

“One of the main battles we fight today is technology-induced inactivity—we’re able to just sit in front of a screen for most of our waking hours, and as a result people have become very sedentary compared to past decades,” said Benden. “The time to get people used to being more active and less sedentary is childhood.”

On average, the desks cost 20 to 50 percent more than traditional seated desks, or about $100 per student.

In May, the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performance Arts Center had 25 percent of the staff switch to standing desks. Users reported that the decrease in the amount of time sitting helped with back pain, headaches and boosted energy levels.

Benden, whose study was funded by United Way and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in the American Journal of Public Health. A similar study in the Medicine and Science journal examined the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women over 13 years, the report found those who sit for most of the day were 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks.

A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18 percent higher.

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