On Standing Desks and the Cornell University Field Tests

A week or so ago, the blogoshphere lit up with the comments from Cornell University, which in part contradicted the health of standing while working. Using a standing desk since the start of the year, I was surprised by the conclusions until I actually read the blurb.

For some background, the problems of sitting for long periods of time are clearly and extensively documented. I’m not going to link to all the data and research but here’s one article I saw only yesterday from CanadianBusiness.com,

What we generally see,” says the Canadian-born Katzmarzyk, “is that people who sit more during the day have a higher risk of dying from any cause, and in particular, mortality from heart disease.

The comments from Cornell don’t try to debunk these kinds of studies but they also seem to downplay them with only a short paragraph on the perils of sitting. More importantly, their criticism of standing desks seem to only consider them when they are used improperly.

Their first issue with sit-stand workstations, “is that when you raise desk height for keyboard/mouse use you need to also raise screen height above the desk or you get neck flexion.” This “problem” seems like no problem at all if the screen height is above the desk…I haven’t seen many sit-stand workstations that don’t work that way. The second observation seems like a similar non-issue because standing can fix posture no more than sitting can.

But here’s my big problem with their piece and why they seem not to prove much. They write,

In our field studies of sit-stand workstations we have found little evidence of widespread benefits and users only stand for very short-periods (15 minutes or less total per day). Other studies have found that the use of sit-stand stations rapidly declines so that after 1 month a majority of people are sitting all the time.

It seems to me that they’re not seeing widespread benefits because as they observe, people are actually not standing. So, how does that prove that it’s not actually healthier? It doesn’t. They’d need to compare people who actually stand versus those who sit (which is what the studies that compare the health benefits of sitting versus standing do). Just because people who have sit-stand workstations don’t stand doesn’t mean there are no benefits; it just means those they observed were being lazy. And that’s what I consider these observations…a bit lazy.