New Study Identifies Risks of Sedentary Lifestyles

We’ve long known that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to increased risk for a number of health conditions. But now researchers have reported the results of a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population across multiple age groups.


Despite warnings that sedentary behaviors are associated with detrimental health consequences, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers, playing video games, TV viewing and computer usage continue to claim inordinate amounts of Americans’ time, and all involve prolonged sitting. New research has quantified the amounts of time spent in front of TVs and computers as well as the total amount of time spent sitting on a daily basis. The new study, conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, analyzed surveys of 51,000 people from 2001 to 2016 in a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population across multiple age groups and different racial and ethnic groups.

Led by Yin Cao, ScD, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University, the study found trends in sedentary behaviors are headed in the wrong direction. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, puts specific numbers on the amount of time Americans actually spend sitting. The researchers analyzed data from more than 51,000 participants’ surveys from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2001 and 2016, examining four age groups: children aged 5 to 11, adolescents aged 12 to 19, adults aged 20 to 64, and adults aged 65 and older.

Researchers’ data analysis indicated that total daily sitting time increased among adolescents and adults from 2007 to 2016, from seven hours per day to just over eight for teenagers, and from 5.5 hours per day to nearly 6.5 for adults. Additionally, the researchers found that most Americans spend at least two hours per day sitting and watching television or videos. Among those aged 5 to 11, 62% spent at least two hours daily in front of screens. For those aged 12 to 19, the number engaged in the same behaviors was 59%. About 65% of adults aged 20 to 64 spent at least two hours watching TV per day. And more recently, from 2015 to 2016, 84% of adults over the age of 65 spent at least that much time sitting watching TV.

Across all age groups, 28% to 38% of those surveyed spent at least three hours per day watching television or videos, and 13% to 23% spent four hours or more hours engaged in those activities. Additionally, computer screen time outside of work and school increased over this period. At least one-half of individuals across all age groups used a computer during leisure time for more than one hour per day in the two latest years of the study. Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population used computers outside of work and school for three hours or more.

Epidemiologist and co-senior study author Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, the Niess-Gain Professor Surgery and director of the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University, said, “We think a lot of these sedentary habits are formed early, so if we can make changes that help children be more active, it could pay off in the future, both for children as they grow to adulthood and for future healthcare spending. Sedentary behavior is linked to poor health in many areas, and if we can reduce that across the board, it could have a big impact.”

If sedentary behaviors are part of your daily routine, it’s never too late to reduce the amount of time spent watching TV or videos, exchanging that time for physical activity. Even walking for a period of 15 minutes or more is preferable to sitting. It’s a lifestyle choice worth making.

Ithaca Primary Care

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