Sedentary Days Not Linked to Diabetes

Rachel Lutz

Spending hours sitting, whether at work or play, is not linked to diabetes.

The findings of a new 13-year study ruled out sitting as a direct cause for diabetes. The study authors said that this investigation was the first of its kind to examine the effects of the different types of sitting: sitting in front of the television and other leisure time compared to sitting at a desk job.

Researchers from The University of Sydney examined nearly 5,000 patients in order to investigate the link between specific sitting time and incident diabetes onset. The patients, who were recruited as part of the Whitehall II study, were all middle aged British civil servants based in London. All the patients began the study without diabetes or major cardiovascular disease. The researchers collected data surrounding the patients’ age, sex, ethnicity, employment grade, smoking habits, alcohol intake, fruit and vegetable consumption, their self rated health, physical functioning, walking and moderate to vigorous physical activity habits, as well as their body mass index.

"Sitting has attracted a lot of publicity in recent years for being as dangerous as smoking and for being harmful regardless of how physically active people are,” lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis explained in a press release. “However, this is one of the very few long term studies to investigate whether there is a link between sitting behaviors and risk of development of diabetes.”

The patients were also asked to reflect on their total sitting time and context specific sitting time — something the researchers defined as work, television, or non television leisure time sitting at home – for the period of time between 1997 and 1999. Then, the researchers observed fasting glucose defined incident diabetes onset through 2011.

A total of 402 new cases of diabetes were reported over the 13-year follow up period. Total sitting and television sitting demonstrated links to incident diabetes, the researchers learned. However, they said, once body mass index was included in the analysis model, both total sitting and television sitting links to incident diabetes decreased significantly.

“While these findings don't exonerate sitting, they do suggest that there is far more at play than we previously realized when it comes to sedentary behaviors and the health risks associated with extended sitting,” Stamatakis added.

The researchers explained that sitting in front of the television is likely unrelated to other leisurely sitting because of other factors, such as poorer mental health, snacking, and exposure to advertising of unhealthy foods.

Another reason these study participants could have been protected from incident diabetes onset, the researchers hypothesized, was the large amount of walking the patients reported. As workers in London, the patients averaged about 45 minutes of walking per day. That activity seemed to balance out the lifestyle of the white collar workers, who otherwise spent many hours sedentary and in front of a computer screen daily, the researchers described.

The paper, titled “Sitting behaviour is not associated with incident diabetes over 13 years,” was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The press release from The University of Sydney was titled, “Sitting not linked to incident diabetes.”

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