Kindergarten Child in Myanmar

Burning Calories vs Reducing Obesity

Standing desks are hot. A new study shows that elementary school children with standing desks were burning more calories than children with seated desks. It’s a well controlled study. So the headlines say ”Standing Desks Effective in the Fight against Childhood Obesity.” Why not? After all, we know that “Your Chair Is Killing You.”

Does the difference between burning calories and reducing obesity matter? If you want to reduce obesity, it does.

A good idea doesn’t always mean a good result. That’s why people spend gobs of money on outcomes research. Saying that having an effect on energy expenditure is the same thing as having an effect on obesity is what we call “jumping to a conclusion.” Careful scientists don’t do that. Careful journalists don’t do that.

But it’s easy to do. We find a way to increase physical activity, so we start thinking we have an option for preventing obesity. We find a way to encourage people to eat more of a food considered to be healthy, so that seems like an option for preventing obesity. Pretty soon we start thinking, “We must have this obesity thing licked.”

But until we look at real outcomes, it’s just speculation. It must be reported as that and nothing more.

Click here to read the misleading headline and here to read the study itself. Click here to read an account of what it’s like to work at a standing desk over time.

Kindergarten Child in Myanmar, Standing at a Desk; photograph © United Nations Photo / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.