Heal O’ Israel, Standing Desks Don’t Help With Weight-Loss

December 12, 2018

4 min read

My boss is a “health freak” who likes to try out all kinds of things to improve his employees’ health. It’s nice to know that he cares about us, but sometimes he goes to extremes. He said many of us are overweight and has taken out all the regular office chairs and replaced them with special “standing desks” on which workers lean all day. I am afraid it will hurt my back. Do such desks cause employees to lose weight? Z.B., New York City

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich comments:

It is indeed nice that your boss cares about his employees’ health. If they lose weight and the boss helps pay for his workers’ health insurance, he would indeed save money. But a new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, written by experts at Bath University in the UK, has found that office employees who stand when working are likely to be burning only fractionally more calories than their seated colleagues.

They found that the “benefits” of standing over sitting is equal to little more than nine calories per hour – the equivalent of just one stalk of celery. In fact, purely for weight-gain perspective, it would take individuals who opted to stand nearly the entire day to burn just one cup of coffee.

Prolonged sitting has become a major health concern, targeted via government policy and the increase in of height-adjustable workstations and wearable technologies that encourage standing. Yet despite these interventions, which have the potential to influence energy balance, remarkably little had been known of the true energy cost of sitting versus standing naturally.

For this study, the team tested the resting metabolic rates of 46 healthy men and women. Participants were then asked to either lie down, sit down or stand up before measurements were taken of their exhaled gases to assess how many calories they burnt through the activity.

With only marginal gains in calories expended observed, the study questioned the effectiveness of standing as an effective strategy for weight loss and in the treatment of obesity.

Prof. James Betts of the University of Bath’s Department for Health explains: “The biomechanics of standing means that more muscles are used to support a greater proportion of the body weight in an upright position, so should cost more energy than when sitting.

“Past research has shown this by comparing sitting and standing when completely motionless. Other research has also explored the energy costs of various daily activities that can be completed whether or not seated but also allow people to walk around, so may not tell us about the simple difference between sitting versus standing.

“In the real-world people also do not usually have their bodily movements restricted but instead do spontaneously fidget to remain comfortable, so we saw an opportunity to understand the fundamental difference between sitting and standing naturally.”

Kinesiology Prof. Gregg Afman at Westmont College in the U.S., who participated in the study, said: “We found that energy cost increase of 0.65 kJ per minute from sitting to standing naturally which equates to a 12% difference. However current interventions to reduce prolonged sitting like standing desks or wearable technologies only increase standing by a maximum of two hours per day. This limited time-frame would cause a person to expend less than 20 kcals more each day.”

Dr Javier Gonzalez, who was also involved in the study from the University of Bath, added: “The very small increase in energy cost of standing compared to sitting that we observed suggests that replacing time spent sitting with time spent standing is unlikely to influence our waistlines in any meaningful way.

“To put this difference in context, it would require an additional 20 hours of standing time, on average, to burn of a medium cup of latte. Many people are becoming aware of the negative health effects of prolonged sitting, and so may opt for standing desks. These people should be aware that while there are still some health benefits to standing more, they should not expect to see drastic changes in their body weight. To lose body weight, people should focus on increasing physical activity and focus on their diet too.”

So, instead of investing in standing desks, your boss should probably build a gym in the office with good exercise equipment and give you time to use it.

I read an article about a non-gluten diet. My doctor put me on it because of arthritis in my knee. I have never see any articles addressing this issue. I try to avoid gluten when I can, but I am not 100% gluten free. Does gluten really affect arthritis? J.P., the US

Dr. Olga Raz, a veteran clinical dietitian at Ariel University in Samaria, replies:

A gluten-free diet is recommended only for people with gluten sensitivity. It would be better if your doctor had sent you to do a blood test for this and had treated your arthritis problem directly.

However, if you want to try, cut out gluten for a while and see if there is improvement; of course, if you are given medication for arthritis, it is likely that your condition will improve from that rather than from a non-gluten diet). As for the scientific studies, there is little evidence that celiac can be associated with arthritis. The question is whether you have celiac. Get it checked, and be well.

If you would like an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at judy@israel365.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.

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