Spending too much time sitting down kills around 50,000 UK people every year, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Spending large amounts of time sitting or lounging around during the day is linked to around 50,000 deaths per year in the UK, and the NHS spends in excess of £0.7bn per year treating the health consequences, suggests research from Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University.
A large proportion of the UK population have sedentary jobs and leisure activities, and official physical activity recommendations regarding sedentary behavior are vague.
But no estimate of the financial impact that sedentary behavior has on the NHS has been calculated, so the authors set out to do just that.
Figures calculated by other researchers on the impact sedentary behavior has on the relative risks of five specific health conditions (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, and lung cancer) and deaths from all causes were combined with figures on the percentage of adults who are sedentary on any given day of the week to estimate the overall impact sedentary behavior has at a UK population level (population attributable fraction).
Figures on sedentary behavior were taken from the Health Survey for England 2012, which reported that 30 percent of adults in England spent at least six hours/day sedentary on weekdays and that this increased to 37 percent of adults on weekends.
Actual overall NHS spending on each of the five conditions, uplifted for inflation, was used to estimate the financial impact sedentary behavior had on the NHS for each of the conditions in the UK in 2016-17.
For all five conditions combined, this amounted to £0.8bn in 2016-17.
As a proportion of patients will have more than one of the five conditions, for example around 30 percent of people with type 2 diabetes will also have cardiovascular disease, the researchers revised their figures to adjust for double-counting caused by comorbidity. This reduced the overall cost of sedentary behavior to the NHS for these five health conditions to £0.7bn in 2016-17.
Next, they took the figure calculated for a fraction of deaths from all causes that could be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle and multiplied it with the actual numbers of deaths that occurred in the UK in 2016.
The researchers say their results suggest that 11.6 percent of all deaths were associated with sedentary behavior and that 69,276 deaths might have been avoided in 2016 if sedentary behavior was eliminated in the UK.
This is an observational study, and as such, can't establish cause, and it also relied on estimates of people's self-reported activity levels, which may not be accurate. The study was also limited by the evidence available for the link between sedentary behavior and health outcomes.
The authors point out that these costs are probably a conservative estimate of the true burden of sedentary behavior because sedentary behavior is likely to be associated with several other cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health disorders, not included in their analysis.
Official physical activity recommendations regarding sedentary behavior are vague, they say. Lead Investigator, Leonie Heron from the Centre of Public Health at Queen's University Belfast, said: "Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behavior, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people."
Measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behavior with the aim of improving population health and reducing the financial burden to the health service, they conclude.