Stand-biased desk, Preventing obesity and improving school performance

Stand-biased desk: Preventing obesity and improving school performance

Seating has become deeply entrenched in environments where cognitive performance is a prerequisite of productivity. In classrooms for example, seated workstations or desks are more common because they give an impression that they provide students with comfort. A new study, however, revealed that students can think better while standing.

Researchers from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health found out that students who used standing desks or stand-biased desks were more attentive than their seated counterparts. Preliminary results in fact revealed that these students had 12% greater on-task engagement in classrooms or an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time.

Mark Benden, PhD, CPE, an ergonomic engineer and an associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, initially became interested in designing desks that could reduce childhood obesity and relieve stress on spinal structures caused by prolonged seating. His interest led to the development of stand-biased desk—raised desks that have stools nearby, enabling students to sit or stand during classroom discussions. Furthermore, this interest also led to the startup offshoot company PositiveMotion, LLC and the brand Stand2Learn that manufactures classroom versions of the stand-biased desk.

There are several studies linking obesity prevalence and other health conditions with prolonged seating. In fact, the earlier study of Benden concluded that the stand-biased desk can help reduce obesity. Students who use these novel workstations have shown to burn 15% more calories than students who use traditional desks. Obese children even burn more calories, about 25% while using these stand-biased desks.

There is an additional benefit centred on learning and engagement according to a new study by Benden and colleagues. They observed almost 300 children over the course of an entire school year. In addition, they determined level of engagement through several measures, including on-task behaviours such as answering a question, raising a hand or participating in active discussion, and off-tasks behaviours like talking out of turn.

As mentioned, the results revealed that students who used stand-biased desks have 12% greater on-task engagement in classrooms or an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time. These results were not surprising according to Benden. After all, previous research has shown that physical activity, even at low levels, may have beneficial effects on cognitive ability.

“Standing workstations reduce disruptive behaviour problems and increase students’ attention or academic behavioural engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks that breaks up the monotony of seated work,” said Benden said. “Considerable research indicates that academic behavioral engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat.”

The key takeaway from this study is that schools or educators and parents could take advantage of standing desks or stand-biased desks to address two critical issues—academic performance and childhood obesity.

Further details of the study are in the article “The effect of stand-biased desks on academic engagement: an exploratory study” published in 2015 in the International Journal of Health Promoting and Education. Other researchers include Hongwei Zhao, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Texas A&M School of Public Health; Jamilia Blake, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational psychology at the Texas A&M College of Education; and Marianela Dornhecker, doctoral student in educational psychology at the Texas A&M College of Education. Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., associate dean for public health practice at the University of Louisville, also contributed to the research.

PositiveMotion, LLC was established in 2008 as a cooperative faculty startup headed by Benden and Erick Wilke, MD. The organization received an SBIR grant to fund the development of Stand2Learn in the fall of 2011. More information about Stand2Learn are found in their official website. Photo credit: Positive Motion, LLC