Searching for a solution: the effect sitting has on kids

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Sitting over a long period of time raises serious health concerns for adults, but what does that mean for kids' and their increasingly sedentary lifestyle?

Dr Ginni Mansberg says although the impact of sitting is studied more in adults, it "doesn't mean there isn't a link [for children]."

Kids are in school, sitting, from nine to three each day, minus a short recess and lunch break.  

While not much has changed, compared to ten years ago when it comes to sitting at school , Dr Mansberg said the major difference is none of us had a phone.

"There was nothing to play with besides a handball, so at recess and lunch time we played tip and we played handball and hopscotch and we were all given some chalk and ran around like crazy," said the Sydney physician.

Having a phone has its benefits but instead of playing, high school teacher Kyle Little* said students spend their lunch time sitting on their phone - not talking to each other and it's affecting more than just their social skills.   

According to the Heart Foundation, the arrival of screens has directly influenced how much time kids spend sitting.

"This change has been directly linked to an increase in health problems such as poor nutrition, obesity and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes."

To counteract Australia's child obesity problem, Dr Ginny Mansberg said parents are enrolling their children in afterschool activities, "hoping that one hour of structured activity will mitigate against their sedentary lifestyle."


"But we know that doesn't work," she said.

Searching for a solution in 2013, a Victorian School 'took a stand' against childhood obesity and idleness and created the world's first standing classroom.

Grade six students at Mont Albert Primary School were fitted with height-adjustable desks and the results were monitored by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

School principal, Sharon Saitlik told 60 Minutes the results both "surprised" and "delighted" her.

"Even boys in particular can get a bit agitated sitting in the same spot. They've got the opportunity to stand or sit as they choose," she said.

And boys aren't the only ones bothered by sitting. Early childhood teacher, Ashlea Snodgrass said it can be difficult for children to make the adjustment to school. When children are younger they learn through movement "and then they get to school and have to learn how to sit."

So where does this leave parents and schools?

Dr Ginny Mansberg says, "I would limit screen time."

"We can't wait for the school to take up a physical activity baton and do everything for you it's not going to work."

What we do know is that kids should be limited to two hours of screen time in total per day.

"Don't think that any amount of activities after school is going to undo that bag of Tiny Teddies and Shapes," she said.

As well as health concerns sitting and listening all day is "exhausting".

A US teacher, Alexis Wiggins, discovered firsthand just how exhausting it is for students to stay engaged sitting all day when the 15-year teaching veteran decided to spend two days in their shoes.

After sitting in on classes like a student, she wrote, "I've made a terrible mistake."

During the classes, Wiggins found herself feeling restless, frustrated and bored.

"You start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day," she said.

"I was drained, and not in a good, long, productive-day kind of way. No, it was that icky, lethargic tired feeling." 

*Name has been changed.