Can Sit-Stand Workstations Combat Obesity? Research Says Maybe Not.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Using a standing desk at the office may not result in a trimmer waistline after all, according to new research on sedentary behavior published in the November issue of Human Factors. The study – the first of its kind – compares the energy expenditure of a number of identical office-based tasks when sitting versus standing, to determine whether increased time on your feet, particularly at the office, can lower the number on the scale.
The results represent a significant break from the widespread attention given to sit-stand workstations, which have been widely touted as a way to mitigate the health risks associated with sedentary behavior. Despite their popularity, though, no research to date has proven that standing more at work has a significant effect on obesity. Human factors/ergonomics researchers Jill Burns, Cuisle Forde, and Sara Dockrell from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, set out to fill that gap in their paper, “Energy Expenditure of Standing Compared to Sitting While Conducting Office Tasks.”
The authors recruited 22 adults to engage in a series of routine office tasks while either sitting or standing. The four standardized tasks included sitting/standing quietly, reading, typing, and sorting paper. They then measured whether the participants’ energy expenditure crossed the threshold into nonsedentary behavior, which is defined as any waking behavior characterized by an energy expenditure greater than 1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs).
Measurements revealed that although sorting paper resulted in the highest energy expenditure of any activity, no task performed while either sitting or standing had an average value at or above 1.5 METs. Most notably, the authors concluded that there were only negligible differences in the energy expenditure of performing the same task in sitting compared with standing. That finding, they say, merits future research on the true value of sit-stand workstations for combating obesity caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the authors believe the real benefit in using a sit-stand workstation may be in the act of transferring from a sitting to a standing position, or vice versa. They recommend more frequent breaks or changes in posture rather than simply engaging in long periods of standing.
To receive a copy of “Energy Expenditure of Standing Compared to Sitting While Conducting Office Tasks” for media-reporting purposes, contact HFES Communications Director Lois Smith (310/394-1811,


The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is the world’s largest scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals, with more than 4,500 members globally. HFES members include psychologists and other scientists, designers, and engineers, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them. “Human Factors and Ergonomics: People-Friendly Design Through Science and Engineering.”