Sit comfortably, today we talk about chairs

Sara Hendren’s excellent article (The tyranny of chairs: why we need better design, The long read, 25 August) discusses the health problems produced by chairs. These have spread throughout the world due to the prestige of the west. Imperial officials viewed squatting, and other forms of sitting at ground level, as a mark of inferiority. Many in the west still see it as a sign of backwardness. Sadly in Asia too, sitting on chairs is often seen as a sign of modernity.

In Singapore, in private, people often squat on chairs. In public, people use chairs in the western way. In India, a doctor told me that he found an increase in leg and foot problems among middle-class women who had switched from squatting to standing, or sitting, in their new western-style kitchens. Studies have also found squatting for childbirth leads to easier deliveries.

It would require a colossal cultural shift in the west to move away from chairs, so better design is the most we can hope for. Do we even know what percentage of people tuck their feet up on deep sofas to avoid discomfort? Better design could be facilitated by anthropological research on how people use furniture.

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