Vertical work-stations, incorporating a treadmill, could help obese employees shed up to 30 kg in weight every year, suggests a small study published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The vertical "walk and work" desk allows people to work at a computer while simultaneously walking on a treadmill at a speed of their own choosing.
Designed by the authors, the steel frame of the device is shaped in the form of the letter "H" and supported by four locking rubber wheels, so that it can be moved about easily.
The frame holds a Plexiglass panel on to which two adjustable arms are bolted - one to hold the computer screen and the other for the keyboard and mouse. Slats provide storage for personal items.
The researchers compared the energy used at the "walk and work" desk with that used while seated at a conventional desk in 15 obese people with sedentary jobs. None of the participants did any regular exercise.
Energy expenditure was measured while working and walking for 35 minutes out of an hour in total and compared with that burned while working, seated at a desk.
The average energy burned while seated at a desk was 72 kilocalories per hour.
But the volunteers burned 191 kilocalories an hour while at the vertical work-station and walking the equivalent of 1 mile an hour.
The authors calculate that if obese employees used the vertical work-station for a couple of hours a day, they could boost their energy expenditure by 100 kilocalories an hour. Over the course of a year, that could translate into shedding between 20 and 30 kg, they say.
The authors add that the study participants found the equipment easy to use and were able to work normally, to the extent that they wanted to continue using it after the study had finished.
And they suggest that devices, such as the vertical work-station, could help to reverse the rising tide of obesity.