Standing desks can save
Researchers say if 20 per cent of office workers had standing desks, it would save $84 million in healthcare costs.
A new economic evaluation has looked at the Stand Up Victoria trial - funded by VicHealth and the NHMRC, and led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.
The trial saw 231 desk-based workers stand up, sit less and move more via multiple strategies, including organisational support, health coaching, and sit-stand desks.
Twelve months after the intervention was introduced, participating workers achieved an average one hour per day reduction in their sitting time.
Experts say too much sitting time is a critical health concern that is exacerbated for those in desk-bound occupations - 45 per cent of Australian workers.
“Workplace sitting is the largest contributor to daily sitting time among office workers, and excessive sitting is associated with serious health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and shorter life expectancy,” said researcher Dr Lan Gao from Deakin University.
“Sit-stand workstations - which allow the user to position the desk at a level convenient for sitting or standing - have been put forward as one possible solution to this issue, however up until now a barrier to their widespread introduction has been the perceived prohibitive cost.
“So far there has not been any published evidence of the cost-effectiveness of such workstations, particularly when coupled with the associated education and support that is needed to help ensure their uptake and sustained use, so ours is the first Australian study to show these interventions are good value for money.”
Deakin's economic evaluation estimates that if the intervention was scaled up to reach 20 per cent of Australia's office workers, it would cost $185.2 million, but would save 7,492 “health adjusted life years” by preventing a range of obesity-related diseases.
Dr Gao said this equated to a cost of $28,703 per year saved, well below the often quoted threshold of $50,000 that society was typically willing to pay for these health savings.
She said the cost would also be partially offset by the $84.2 million saved in healthcare costs over the lifetime of these workers.
“Not only that, but from an employer's perspective, adopting this workplace intervention also has the potential to reduce absenteeism and improve productivity,” she said.
The net cost of the intervention was estimated at $344 per person, but Dr Gao said this could be reduced by economies of scale arising from bulk orders of sit-stand workstations, sharing workstations between part-time workers, and providing support through online resources and local office champions.