Sitting for long periods could cause 70,000 UK deaths each year

Prolonged sitting has been linked to around 70,000 deaths a year and £0.7bn in NHS hospital bills, a new study has found.

Prolonged sitting has been linked to 70,000 deaths in a single year and £800m in NHS health bills, a study, which is the first to put a ‘conservative estimate’ on costs from sitting-related disease, has found.

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University looked at the impact sedentary behaviour has on the risks of five specific health conditions: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer.

Deaths from all causes were combined with figures on the percentage of adults who are sedentary for over six hours a day to estimate the impact on the UK population.

NHS spending on each of the five conditions was used to estimate the financial impact in a one year period in 2016-17. Results suggest that 11.6 per cent of all deaths were associated with sedentary behaviour and that 69,276 deaths might have been avoided in 2016 if sedentary behaviour was eliminated in the UK.

The British Medical Journal paper said that putting a cost on sedentary behaviour was an ‘important step in the development of public health policy.’

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 behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people. Measures should be taken to reduce sedentary behaviour with the aim of improving population health and reducing the financial burden to the health service.”

The findings did not include musculoskeletal and mental health disorders, and so the figures were likely to be conservative, she added.

A large proportion of the UK population have sedentary jobs and leisure activities. Photograph: iStock

Gavin Bradley, Founder of On your feet Britain day campaign, held on 26 April, said: “Study after study makes it clear: sit less, move more is the key to good physical and mental health.”

“If you care about your health, you must make the effort to change your habits, standing and moving more in the day.”
The campaign has tips such as taking phone calls standing up, using the stairs more, walking to colleagues’ desks instead of emailing them and using a stand-up desk as ways to break up ‘binge-sitting.’

Leonie Heron also advised employers to encourage staff to move more throughout the day to prevent the health impacts of prolonged sitting, saying: "Break times could be used for activities such as going for a walk. Since standing up more regularly has health benefits, employees should be encouraged to do so. Adjustable desks that can be used while standing or sitting are a good option for encouraging this.

"Even small changes could make a difference, such as walking over to a colleague to speak to them instead of writing them an email from your desk, or using a printer that is further away."

The research report: Direct healthcare costs of sedentary behaviour in the UK was published on 26 March in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.