Sitting not linked to diabetes: study

After repeatedly being warned that sitting is as harmful as smoking, it seems the sofa may be joining low-fat diets and moderate red wine consumption as a much-debated is-it-or-isn’t-it cardiometabolic risk factor.

New research from the University of Sydney finds there is little evidence for an association between sitting and diabetes.

Instead, researchers from the School of Public Health say the links with sitting and diabetes may have more to do with unhealthy eating habits while watching TV rather than sitting time per se.

The 13-year follow-up study of 4811 middle-aged and older UK office workers found that the 402 new cases of diabetes showed only a weak association with time spent sitting, and that was confined to sitting while watching TV.

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The researchers noted that previous studies had not distinguished between various types of sitting behaviours and had focused on sedentary behaviour linked to television watching.

“But TV time and sitting time are practically uncorrelated, so we have very good reasons to believe that the health risks attributed to TV in the past are due to other factors, such as poorer mental health, snacking and exposure to unhealthy food advertising,” said lead author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis.

Previous studies that labelled sitting as a health risk had also failed to account for higher BMI and other confounding factors, such as daily walking, he added.

“While these findings don’t exonerate sitting, they do suggest that there is far more at play than we previously realised when it comes to sedentary behaviours and the health risks associated with extended sitting,” he said.

So while strategies to increase physical activity and reduce BMI remain the cornerstone of diabetes prevention, the researchers believe more attention is needed on the “energy balance” between eating and exercise.

More information:

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017; online.