Standing up to childhood obesity by not sitting as much in school Study finds standing desks improve body mass index percentile of children

    Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., M.A.
    Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., M.A.

    Changing a classroom from standard desks to standing desks, has a significant effect on the body mass index (BMI) percentile of students, according to a study co-led by University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences researcher Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., M.A., and her Texas A&M University collaborators.

    The study, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, included 193 third-and-fourth-grade students at three Texas elementary schools over a two-year period. Children in the control classrooms sat at traditional desks, while those in the test group learned at what the study calls stand-biased desks, equipped with a footrest and stool. These desks, designed and researched by Texas A&M co-investigators on this study, are meant to encourage longer standing periods since students can occasionally sit on a stool and prop their feet on a footrest underneath the desk to relieve back tension and leg fatigue.

    In the study, 62 children remained in the test group for two years, 82 students were in the test group one year and the control group one year, and 49 students were in the control group both years. At the initiation of the study, researchers recorded the students’ height, weight, gender, birth date, and age to calculate their BMI, BMI percentile and BMI category – normal or underweight, overweight or obese. The same information was collected at the end of the second year.

    After adjusting for grade, race/ethnicity and gender, Wendel and her colleagues found a 5.24-percent decrease in BMI percentile in the group that used stand-biased desks for two consecutive years relative to the group that used standard desks both years. There was no significant difference between the group that used standing desks for two consecutive years and students that used the desks for only one year of the study.

    “School-age children spend most of their waking hours during the week at school. Changing classrooms to stand-biased environments has the potential to affect millions of children by interrupting sedentary behavior, and this can be done simply, at a low cost, and without disrupting classroom instruction,” Wendel said.

    National data from 2012, shows 16.9 percent of children ages 2-19 are obese, and another 14.9 percent are overweight. Wendel says as a growing body of evidence shows that prolonged sitting greatly increases a person’s risk for obesity, metabolic issues and chronic disease, a change in philosophy to incorporate standing desks in the classroom could have a major impact on public health.


    Julie Heflin
    Julie oversees digital content for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She began her UofL career on the Health Sciences Center campus in 2007. Prior to this, Julie was a journalist with WFPL (Louisville Public Media), and occasionally filed reports for National Public Radio.