Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk

Document Type

Journal Article


Dowden Health Media, Inc


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


ECU Health and Wellness Institute




Owen, N., Sparling, P., Healy, G., Dunstan, D. , & Matthews, C. (2010). Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85(12), 1138-1141. Available here


Compared with our parents or grandparents, we are spending increasing amounts of time in environments that not only limit physical activity but require prolonged sitting—at work, at home, and in our cars and communities. 1 Work sites, schools, homes, and public spaces have been (and continue to be) re-engineered in ways that minimize human movement and muscular activity. These changes have a dual effect on human behavior: people move less and sit more. From an evolutionary perspective, humans were designed to move—to locomote and engage in all manner of manual labor throughout the day. This was essential to our survival as a species. The recent shift from a physically demanding life to one with few physical challenges has been sudden, occurring during a tiny fraction of human existence. Societal indicators of reductions in human energy expenditure and increases in sedentary behavior during the past several decades are particularly striking. In 1970, 2 in 10 working Americans were in jobs requiring only light activity (predominantly sitting at a desk), whereas 3 in 10 were in jobs requiring high-energy output (eg, construction, manufacturing, farming). 2 By 2000, more than 4 in 10 adults were in light-activity jobs, whereas 2 in 10 were in high-activity jobs. 2 Moreover, during the past 20 years, total screen time (ie, using computers, watching television, playing video games) has increased dramatically. In 2003, nearly 6 in 10 working adults used a computer on the job and more than 9 in 10 children used computers in school (kindergarten through grade 12). 3 Between 1989 and 2009, the number of households with a computer and Internet access increased from 15% to 69%. 3 Other significant contributors to daily sitting time—watching television and driving personal vehicles—are at all-time highs, with estimates of nearly 4 hours and 1 hour, respectively.



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