Sitting down linked to 50,000 UK deaths per year, say health experts

The effect of our sedentary lifestyles is starting to have serious and expensive consequences.

A team of scientists have claimed the amount of sitting down we all do is linked to around 50,000 deaths per year in the UK and costs the NHS at least £700 million.

What do they mean when they say sedentary lifestyle? Well, if you’re sitting down for six hours or more each day (whether at home or at work) you’re in that bracket.

The Health Survey for England reported that 30% of adults in England spent at least six hours a day sedentary on weekdays.

On the weekends, it rises to 37%.

To reach their estimates, the team looked at NHS costs over the period of a year (2016-2017) that were associated with sitting for more than six hours a day.

They calculated a population attributable fraction (PAF) for five health outcomes: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease [CVD], colon cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer.

Adjustments were made for potential double-counting due to more than one cause of death.

They also calculated the avoidable deaths due to prolonged sedentary behaviour using the PAF forall-cause mortality. Official physical activity recommendations regarding this are vague, according to the team.

The researchers say their results suggest that 11.6% of all deaths were associated with sitting down and that 69,276 deaths might have been avoided in 2016 if the behaviour was eliminated in the UK.

The total NHS costs attributable to prolonged sedentary behaviour in the UK in 2016-2017 were £0.8 billion, which included expenditure on CVD (£424million), type 2 diabetes (£281million), colon cancer (£30million), lung cancer (£19million) and endometrial cancer (£7million).

After adjustment for potential double-counting, the estimated total was £0.7 billion.

Lead author, Leonie Heron, a postgraduate researcher from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, said: ‘Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people.

‘If sedentary behaviour was eliminated in the UK, 69,276 deaths in 2016 might have been avoided.’

She added: ‘This study had several strengths. We have calculated PAFs for sedentary behaviour in the UK using the best data available, and we have included all conditions reported as having moderate to strong evidence of an association.’

The study was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health today.

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