A study is recommending a few simple changes in the design and location of staircases that can help fight obesity by making buildings more "physical activity friendly".
Study leader Dr. Ishak A. Mansi, of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, has revealed that the research team focussed on how changes in staircase designs could help fight obesity.
"Changing stair design to encourage their use requires a set of interventions on both architectural and legislative levels to create physical environments that support active living," wrote the authors of the study.
The researchers believe that encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is a promising approach to increasing moderate physical activity
The authors point out that light to moderate physical activity is most effective in motivating people who are currently inactive and obese.
However, current approaches to stair design pose a problem.
"Stairs are frequently hidden from entrances, with only small signs denoting their locations, typically in connection to the fire exit," said the authors.
Fire exits are usually guarded by heavy doors, not carpeted, and not air-conditioned, thus architects find it challenging enough to comply with current building codes emphasizing fire safety and accessibility.
However, the research has suggested that some simple interventions can do much toward encouraging people to take the stairs.
For example, a study performed at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention building found that playing music in stairwells and displaying motivational signs significantly increased the use of stairs.
These and other measures to make stairs attractive, safe, and readily accessible could help to make buildings more "physical activity-friendly," wrote the authors.
They have suggested several ways to make stairs more comfortable and inviting-for example, making staircases wider with less height per step and adding music, lighting, and air-conditioning.
Such efforts would readily fit in with recommended policy and environmental changes to increase physical activity.
"State and local agencies are being encouraged by federal and nongovernmental organizations to use policy interventions to address the public health problem of physical activity," said the authors.
They have called for physicians, architects, and other professionals to work together to promote change in such policies.
They concluded: "Perhaps now is the time to address the need for standard national building codes that incorporate health concerns and support active living."
The study has been published in the June Southern Medical Journal, official journal of the Southern Medical Association.