Too Much Sitting: The Population Health Science of Sedentary Behavior

Neville Owen; Geneviève N. Healy; Charles E. Matthews; David W. Dunstan


Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;3(3):105-109. 

In This Article

Practical and Policy Implications of a Science of Sedentary Behavior

Practical and policy approaches to addressing too much sitting as a population health issue will involve innovations on multiple levels. For example, public information campaigns may emphasize reducing sitting time as well as increasing physical activity. There may be more widespread use of innovative technologies that can provide more opportunities to reduce sitting time (e.g., height-adjustable desks) or new regulations in workplaces to reduce or break up extended periods of job-related sitting. Active transport modes can be promoted not only as opportunities for walking, but also as alternatives to the prolonged periods that many people spend sitting in automobiles. Providing nonsitting alternatives at community entertainment venues or events also may be considered. If evidence on the deleterious health impact of too much sitting continues to accumulate as we predict, and if such innovations are implemented, there will be the need for systematic evaluations, particularly of approaches that have the potential for broader dissemination.

Anecdotally, the recent experience in Australia has been that initiatives in the final phase of the behavioral epidemiology framework ("using relevant evidence to inform public health guidelines and policy") have already begun. This is happening largely on the basis of the first-phase evidence presented in Figure 4 ("identifying relationships of sedentary behavior with health outcomes"). For example, the Australian National Preventative Health Task Force Report includes explicit recommendations to address prolonged sitting in the workplace in the context of reducing the burden of overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The Western Australian state division of the Heart Foundation included reducing sitting time in a 2009 statewide mass media campaign for obesity prevention. In the state of Queensland, Health Promotion Queensland (a cross-departmental body) commissioned an evidence-based review in 2009 on health impacts and interventions to reduce workplace sitting, with a view to future practical initiatives. Thus, there are growing expectations in Australia that too much sitting is a real and substantial risk to health. However, it remains to be seen whether the science of sedentary behavior will deliver consistent new findings in all of the research areas that are needed to inform such innovations (Fig. 4).

Given the consistency of research findings reported thus far on sedentary behavior and health, we expect that in the near future there will be a stronger body of confirmatory evidence from prospective studies and intervention trials. Furthermore, we predict that the next iteration of the Physical Activity and Public Health recommendations of ACSM/AHA will include a statement on the health benefits of reducing and breaking up prolonged sitting time.