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Sitting down for too long may be causing 70,000 UK deaths a year

March 26, 2019 6 min read

Extended sitting or lying down in daytime increases risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer – and costs NHS £700m – says study

Sitting or lying down for long periods during the day is not only bad for your health it could be the cause of almost 70,000 deaths and cost the NHS at least £700m a year, new research has revealed.

Scientists have previously flagged that sedentary behaviour increases the risk of a number of diseases as well as a premature death.

Now experts have looked into the financial burden of sedentary behaviour in the UK, revealing that sitting or lying down for at least six hours a day is behind £424m of spending on cardiovascular disease, £281m on type 2 diabetes and £30m on colon cancer alone.

“We don’t have clear guidelines [on sedentary behaviour] yet but any increase in activity is beneficial to your health,” said Leonie Heron, first author of the research from Queen’s University Belfast.

The team add that it isn’t only the public purse that could benefit from more movement: they predict more than 69,000 deaths in the UK in 2016 – 11.6% of all deaths – could have been prevented if people did not sit down for prolonged periods.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Heron and colleagues from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University describe how they made their calculations by estimating the amount of money spent by the NHS on type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and endometrial, colon and lung cancers over the financial year 2016-2017 across the UK.

They then combined this with estimates, based on previous studies, of the degree to which at least six hours of sedentary behaviour a day increases risk of such diseases, as well as estimates of the proportion of people who went on to develop the different diseases that reported prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour.

The team also drew on data from a large survey in England, conducted in 2012, which revealed 30% of adults spent at least six hours of every weekday sedentary, rising to 37% of adults on the weekends.

After crunching the figures together, and taking into account factors including people’s smoking status, BMI and how much exercise they did, the team found that if sedentary behaviour was eliminated in the UK, 9% of cases of colon cancer, 8% of endometrial cancer and 7.5% of lung cancer could be prevented, as well as 17% of cases of type 2 diabetes and about 5% of cardiovascular disease cases.

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