Maybe Sitting Isn’t Really the New Smoking
The idea that sitting is the new smoking has taken off. This compelling narrative – that your desk chair is killing you – is so titillating that you’ll find 33 million results on Google. We have an ample supply of infographics, books, TED Talks, and more.
Just one tiny problem is cropping up: hyperbole.
Reviewing the Evidence
A new review by Shao-Hua Chin and colleagues from Texas Tech University finds that the evidence for a cause and effect relationship between sitting and bad health outcomes is thin. We have an abundance of evidence that sitting time is associated with bad health outcomes.
One problem is that many intervention studies simply measure changes in behaviors, not health outcomes. Chin explains:
We need more intervention studies that measure health outcomes, not just changes in sedentary behaviors, to fully understanding this issue.
But the larger problem is one of exaggeration. The evidence we have does not really back a claim that sitting is as dangerous as smoking. Chin et al concluded:
Taken as a whole the literature is suggestive that there may be value in reducing sedentary behavior to have modest impact on health. However, the magnitude of the benefit appears minor and must be considered before making large-scale and potentially costly clinical and public health recommendations.
Questioning the Link to Metabolic Disease
In a recent study, Emmanuel Stamatakis and colleagues found that “sitting behaviour is not associated with incident diabetes.” They studied a large cohort of British civil servants. After accounting for baseline BMI, they found no association between sitting and diabetes incidence.
Stamatakis sums up his views in The Conversation:
Rather than being the “new smoking”, we need to think of sitting as an important part of the wider problem of physical inactivity.
So, the first priority is to reinforce the most evidence-based message: move as often as possible, huff and puff sometimes.
Tall tales captivate people. In public relations, telling the difference between a compelling true narrative and a tall tale can be hard.
But hyperbole hurts the cause of credible, sober science. When hyperbole comes back to bite, it bites hard. We all pay a price. People start to doubt real facts. They hold onto false beliefs.
Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.
March 2, 2017