Despite the constant back and forth on its health and productivity benefits, the standing desk—the Skechers Shape-Ups of office furniture—has gone from workplace curiosity to a fixture of the modern office. But there's a yet untouched desk pasture ripe for colonization by our favorite love-to-hate workstation: schools.
A handful of classrooms have already ditched traditional sit-only desks for their standing counterparts, but following a new study from Texas A&M this week, a lot more could follow. Researchers found that standing desks had a positive impact on the body mass index (BMI) of kids who use them.
For two years, three unnamed Texas schools tested how standing desks might effect students' BMI over time. Tracking around 400 kids, the researchers gave about half standing desks, while the rest had to work the old-fashioned way. The raised workspaces came with stools and bars underneath for the kids to rest their feet. All children wore research-grade activity trackers. After two years, the standers had overall lower BMI than the sitters. Researchers measured more than a 5 percent change in BMI between the two groups over time.
One of the researchers, Dr. Mark Benden, director of the ergonomics center at Texas A&M, says these results shocked him. "This is crazy," he said on first seeing the numbers. "Go back and rerun the numbers. Don't breathe a word of this." The data, however, showed a statistically significant difference between the two groups. Classrooms that use what the report calls "stand-bias" desks lead to healthier outcomes for kids. Following the study, the Texas schools not only kept the standing desks but asked for more. (Benden also created Stand2Learn, the company that outfitted the school with the desks.)
Previous research on children has confirmed a lot of the same stuff we've heard about adult usage: Giving kids standing desks helps them burn more calories, and anecdotally, improves behavioral classroom engagement. Like their parents, when given the choice, kids won't choose to sit still all day. "They could sit or stand as they wanted," explained Benden1. Of course, standing all day isn't good for health either, research has found. "We don't want to have static standing replace static sitting," said Benden. "Quite frankly, it's not much better." People often choose a blend of the two. The kids would lean, perching on a stool or propping themselves up against the desks. Some of the younger students would forgo the stool altogether, moving it to the side. The big finding in Benden's latest study is that all that moving (even if it looks like awkward squirming) is actually having an effect on kid's health.
If standing desks make it to schools, we could see a standing-desk revolution in the workplace —much to the chagrin of sitting enthusiasts2. The sit desk could become a thing of the past. Schools were made for indoctrination. If kids grow up using standing desks, when they get to the workplace, they won't even know how to interact with what they'll call a beta desk. They'll demand standing desks for all. Doesn't Generation Z in the workplace sound fun?