Standing desks in classrooms could be an easy way to help make kids' time in school less sedentary, a new research review suggests.
The study team analyzed data from eight previously published papers and found, not surprisingly, that kids spent more time on their feet when these desks were used instead of traditional classroom furniture.
Standing desks were also linked to a decrease in sitting time ranging from 59 to 64 minutes per school day.
"In schools, children spend over 50 percent of the school day sitting - traveling to school, during class, at lunch, sometimes during recess, traveling home after school, etc.," said lead study author Karl Minges of the Yale School of Nursing in Connecticut.
"While one cannot easily reduce sitting time at lunch or during transportation, changing the classroom environment to be more conducive to standing seems like low-hanging fruit," Minges added by email.
Reducing sedentary time among school-age children is important because inactivity is linked to a wide range of health problems including obesity and diabetes, Minges and colleagues note in the journal Pediatrics. Some previous research has also linked sedentary time to poor academic achievement and low self-esteem.
For the current study, researchers focused on standing desks used in first through sixth grades. Students in the studies were around eight to 12 years old, on average, and the studies ranged in size from eight to 337 participants.
Four studies were done in the U.S., while two were from New Zealand and one was in Germany. An additional article included data from Australia and the U.K.
The types of desks varied across the studies, with some configurations fixed at a standing height and other adjustable options that allowed students to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
Five of the studies tracked the effect of these desks on standing time. In two studies, children spent significantly more time standing after they got the desks than they did before, with increases ranging from about 26 percent to 31 percent. In two other studies, children stood 24 minutes longer per school day with standing desks.
One study also looked at screen time, often used as a proxy for sedentary behavior, and found that after standing desks were put in classrooms, students spent 71 fewer minutes each day watching television and using computers.
Six studies looked at physical activity and didn't find significant changes with standing desks by looking at total steps or time spent stepping.
Limitations of the analysis include the small number of studies and participants, as well as the varied ways of tracking the impact of standing desks, the authors acknowledge.
More research is needed to determine whether standing desks might be cost-effective or feasible to provide in schools, and additional studies are also necessary to assess any potential health or educational benefits of standing desks.
Still, the preliminary evidence on standing desks points to their potential to help reduce sitting time and increase standing time among elementary children, the authors conclude.
"The long term use of these desks might result in reduction in sedentary behavior amongst children not just in schools but even outside the school environment," said Dr. Seema Kumar, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who wasn't involved in the study.
"Children may become more active overall and these changes in behavior may translate into better weight outcomes, improved ability to learn and pay attention and greater self-esteem."
SOURCE: Pediatrics, online January 22, 2016.