16 July 2018 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
International research group Cochrane has reviewed 34 studies on workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work covering a total of 3,397 participants, all from high-income countries.
The consultant reports that it has "found no significant difference between the effects of standing desks and sit-stand desks on reducing sitting at work".
The studies evaluated physical workplace changes (16 studies), workplace policy changes (four studies), information and counselling (11 studies), and multi-component interventions (four studies).
The use of sit-stand desks seems to reduce workplace sitting on average by 84 to 116 minutes a day.
When combined with the provision of information and counselling, the use of sit-stand desks seems to result in similar reductions in sitting at work.
Sit-stand desks also seem to reduce total sitting time (including sitting at work and outside work) and the duration of workplace sitting bouts that last 30 minutes or longer.
One study compared standing desks with sit-stand desks but owing to the small number of employees included, it does not provide enough evidence to determine which type of desk is more effective at reducing sitting time.
Total sitting time (including sitting at and outside work) also decreased with sit-stand desks compared with sit-desks, as did the duration of sitting bouts lasting 30 minutes or more.
But the report states: "Treadmill desks combined with counselling seem to reduce sitting time at work, while the available evidence is insufficient to conclude whether cycling desks combined with the provision of information reduce sitting at work more than the provision of information alone."
The authors also say: "Combining multiple interventions seems to be effective in reducing sitting time and time spent in prolonged sitting bouts in the short term and the medium term. However, this evidence comes from only a small number of studies and the effects were very different across the studies."
The report concludes that "the quality of evidence is low to very low for most interventions, mainly because of limitations in study protocols and small sample sizes".
At present there is low-quality evidence that sit-stand desks may reduce sitting at work in the first year of their use, concedes the report.
However, the effects are likely to reduce with time. There is generally insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about such effects for other types of interventions and for the effectiveness of reducing workplace sitting over periods longer than one year.
The authors add: "More research is needed to assess the effectiveness of different types of interventions for reducing sitting at workplaces, particularly over longer periods."