My Office @ the Department of Imagination

Standing Desks: A Fast-Growing Business of Health Hype

Varidesk is the fastest growing business in Dallas. Somehow, many workers now believe standing desks have important health benefits. Maybe standing desks will save them from an early death in a desk chair.  Or maybe not. Truly, the data is mixed and all of it is observational.

No matter. It’s moving tons of products for Varidesk.

How Did This Happen?

Like many hot product fads, the standing desk phenomenon is the product of many factors coming together. And a smart PR strategy to pump up the health hype didn’t hurt.

In Health Communication, Josephine Chau and colleagues take a close look at how this happened. They studied news coverage of the first guidelines on sitting time at work and found a big message gap. In simple terms, the recommendation was move more and sit less. But news reporting focused only on the “sit less” part of the story.

You might remember the headlines and infographics. “Sitting is the new smoking.” Unfortunately, “move more” didn’t get as much attention. In fact, when the coverage mentioned physical activity, the message was negative. Reporters hammered away at the notion that no amount of physical activity could make up for prolonged sitting.

Bias and Incomplete Information

Chau also takes issue with incomplete disclosures. Promoting sit-stand products is a business for one of the authors (Gavin Bradley) of the guidelines that produced all this hype. She says:

We are not suggesting Gavin Bradley skewed the sit-stand desk evidence in the guidelines. But the initial failure to disclose his interests is a concern.

In any event, a few things are clear. Moving more and sitting less is good for your health. But simply standing up – without moving about – might not help too much. In fact, standing around all day might be as bad or worse than sitting around all day.

Simplistic hype might sell products – like a gee-whizzy standing desk – but ultimately it does little to inform people about their health.

Click here for the study in Health Communication and here for more on how the media oversold standing desks. For more on how too much standing around too much might be harmful, click here.

My Office @ the Department of Imagination, image © Zee / flickr

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October 16, 2017