Weak Association Between Sitting, Diabetes Discovered

Long-term sitting may not impact diabetes risk as much as previously believed.

Despite numerous studies that indicate sitting for long periods of time as a cause for various health issues, new findings show that it may not be a direct cause for diabetes.

This new study suggests that sitting may not be as harmful as previously thought, which indicates the complex nature of factors involved, according to a study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

"Sitting has attracted a lot of publicity in recent years for being as dangerous as smoking and for being harmful regardless of how physically active people are. However, this is one of the very few long-term studies to investigate whether there is a link between sitting behaviours [sic] and risk of development of diabetes," said lead study author Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD. “While these findings don't exonerate sitting, they do suggest that there is far more at play than we previously realised [sic] when it comes to sedentary behaviours [sic] and the health risks associated with extended sitting."

In the study, the investigators examined responses from 4811 middle-aged and older office workers involved with a long-term health study. At baseline, the patients did not have diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

Patients reported the amount of time they spent sitting, including time commuting, at work, relaxing, and watching television.

The authors then examined clinical data based on blood glucose levels for the patients to determine if they developed diabetes over the 13-year follow-up period, according to the study. The researchers adjusted for factors such as physical activity, diet, employment, alcohol consumption, smoking, health status, and body mass index.

Overall, only 402 patients developed incident diabetes during follow up, but there was limited evidence to suggest that sitting and diabetes were linked. The authors reported that the weak associations they found were limited to sitting while watching television.

"Importantly, our research was among the first long-term studies to distinguish between various types of sitting behaviours [sic] -- not just TV sitting, which is used in the majority of existing studies,” Dr Stamatakis said. “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 foods advertising.”

Previous studies also failed to acknowledge the relationship between higher body mass index and diabetes risk, which can influence the findings, according to the study.

"Another reason for our results could be that these London-based workers were protected by the large amounts of walking they reported, which was nearly 45 minutes per day on average,” Dr Stamatakis concluded. “With most white-collar workers forced to spend many hours each day in front of a computer not moving, this amount of physical activity may be an absolute necessity to maintain good health."