Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Review Finds No Link Between Sitting and Obesity

Sitting may be bad for you but it’s unlikely to make you fat according to a study published in Sports Medicine.

While sedentary behaviour is linked with increased risk of morbidity and mortality from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there have always been questions about whether this is because sitting for long periods leads to weight gain.

To see if there was indeed a link, a research team led by Dr Meredith Peddie of The University of Otago conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 23 international studies evaluating sedentary behaviour and obesity in adults.

Peddie says the results reveal “small, inconsistent and non-significant” associations between sedentary behaviours and risk of obesity in adults. For example, over a 5-year follow-up period, each 1 hour increase in sedentary behaviour was associated with a 0.02 mm increase in waist circumference.

“The results might seem counter-intuitive as we know that standing instead of sitting does increase energy expenditure slightly, and replacing sitting with moving further increases energy expenditure,” Peddie says, “but either these changes aren’t large enough to meaningfully impact weight in the long term, or people who move around more are pretty good at compensating for the extra movement by increasing their energy intake”.

However, Peddie points out that the results of this study should not mean it’s acceptable to give up the standing desk or binge-watch entire series of TV shows. “Our intervention studies clearly show that sitting for long periods increases blood sugar and triglyceride levels. The current physical activity guidelines to sit less and move more still apply,’’ she says.