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Multifunctional KUZE holds numerous benefits for learners
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communication / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie - Edna Ellman
Published: 29/02/2024

“Sitting is the new smoking" – this buzz phrase, comparing an extended amount of sitting to the harmful long-term effects of smoking, is by no means exaggerated. To combat this, standing desks have steadily gained popularity at the workplace and home offices over the past few years.

Researchers from Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FHMS) have been working on its very own groundbreaking solution to address the sitting problem – an adaptable, lightweight chair that would enable its users to easily transform it from chair to standing desk by placing it on an existing table.

The KUZE, a multifunctional innovation, was designed to encourage movement in the classroom after 10 years of research into back health and sedentary behaviour by Prof Quinette Louw, Executive Head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and FMHS researcher Dr Dominic Fisher from the Division of Physiotherapy.

Following a feasibility study at schools in the Western Cape, the feedback was used to further research and improve the product. “The findings have inspired us to make significant changes to the KUZE, which will make it context friendly," Louw said.

Louw says prolonged sitting is associated with acquired back pain, and with sedentary physiology that leads to long-term non-communicable conditions such as overweight and diabetes. “Given that both back pain and sedentary behaviour tracks from childhood to adulthood, researchers developed interventions aimed at reducing sitting time in school children as a means of promoting good back health and preventing the onset of avoidable health problems.

“Changing the physical environment of the class, including substituting traditional, static classroom furniture for innovative, dynamic classroom furniture had been shown to be effective in Europe, the US, Canada, and the UK. There are no locally available standing desks for school–aged children. Given that the South African context is unique, a uniquely South African solution was developed to accommodate the small physical classrooms relative to the number of learners."

Fisher, whose research interests are in spinal health and sedentary behaviour in school children, says the primary benefit of the KUZE is that it allows learners to engage in classroom activities without being forced to remain sitting for prolonged periods of the day. “Our research shows that school learners reduced their sitting time by 10% one year after starting to use the KUZE and that showed a 20% increase in the number of times they moved in and out of sitting positions."

Improvements on the KUZE

Functional and aesthetic improvements have been made since the early versions of the KUZE in response to user feedback, Fisher says.

The changes include:

  • The height-adjusting mechanism has been refined to avoid the top component from slipping down while users are adjusting the height.
  • The heights slots were changed from its vertical arrangement to a more lateral position to prevent the top component from sliding all the way down – making it easier and safer to adjust.
  • Sound dampening materials fitted to the crossbars to reduce the sound while adjusting the weight.
  • Reduced weight, making it easier to carry.
  • Redesigned slots, enabling users to now carry it with one hand, increasing portability and ease of use.

The classroom and beyond

There is also emerging evidence that prolonged sitting is associated with increased lapses in concentration, so the notion that one must sit to optimise concentration should be challenged, Fisher says.

“There is growing evidence that interrupting prolonged sitting may enhance learners' concentration and engagement with cognitive tasks. This evidence should inform teaching practice to leverage the benefits of reducing classroom siting time and increasing movement during class time.

“Given that teachers are faced with many competing demands, we (rehabilitation practitioners) must develop ways to support teachers in changing their beliefs and teaching practice if we are to fulfil government strategy of interdepartmental collaboration between education and health departments to address health issues."

Partnerships are being fostered with special schools as well as the private and public schools and several unintended uses and applications for the KUZE have arisen.

“There is a growing demand from SU staff for KUZEs as sit-stand desk solutions. Parents have requested KUZEs for children with certain disorders, for example attention deficit disorder, to help them better focus in school and reduce classroom disruption," Fisher says.

Beyond the classroom, the lightweight, but sturdy KUZE can also be used by toddlers and the height adjustability accommodates users up to 1.8 m as a standing desk (about 1.6 m to use it as a chair).