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The third annual Work, Health and Wellbeing Conference took place in Salford in September, focusing on sedentary work, chronic fatigue and long-term conditions. Kath Burke reports.
Having a desk job may knock years off your life through increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity, but is it any worse than being a couch potato, and what can employers do to help?
These questions were raised by Alex Clarke-Cornwell, public health researcher at Salford University, who told the Work, Health and Wellbeing Conference that good-quality research is needed to clear up confusion over what to do to protect office workers from the perils of sedentary working.
First, Cornwell said that not all sitting is the same – we sit more still at our desks than we do when loafing around the house – and researchers are not sure what this means for our health.
Second, more reliable research into workplace interventions, such as sit-stand desks, is needed.
“We’re doing analysis to see if there are differences in health-related outcomes of sedentary behaviour at work compared to at home,” Cornwell told Occupational Health & Wellbeing.
“I think sit-stand desks are good to reduce sitting time, but the quality of evidence isn’t great so far, according to a systematic review. What people need is behaviour change strategies, such as moving the bin so it’s not near the desk, or standing up when you’re on the phone.”
Although Cornwell feels more energetic after a day’s work at her sit-stand desk, rather than a regular desk, she’s interested in the effect of activity “nudgers”, such as StepJockey, which sets employees stair climbing challenges on their phones.
In March 2016, the Cochrane Collaboration did a systematic review investigating workplace interventions for reducing sitting time. This review – covering 20 studies and 2,174 participants – found that sit-stand desks used alone can reduce sitting time by 30 minutes to two hours a day.
But how this translates into health outcomes is still unclear.
Research is similarly uncertain about the benefits of treadmill desks, pedalling workstations, computer prompting software and activity counselling.
Larger trials with long-term follow-ups are needed on sedentary working, the reviewers concluded.
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