Sedentary behavior linked to diabetes

Further research may determine whether changing sedentary behavior will reduce long-term outcomes.

A new study supports a link between sedentary behavior (i.e., a desk job) and metabolic disease. 

In an analysis of data collected in a population-based, longitudinal cohort study of middle-aged adults, published recently in Diabetes Care online, sedentary behavior and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were assessed via an objective accelerometer, “which is a strength because self-report of sedentary behavior usually has quite a bit of error,” according to the study author, Bethany Barone Gibbs.

Gibbs“However, an accelerometer is not able to capture position-seated vs. standing-so the way we measured sedentary behavior does not distinguish between stillness when sitting or standing,” explains Gibbs, a researcher in health and physical activity at the University of Pittsburgh.  

“Our outcomes, metabolic parameters like fasting glucose, HbA1C, and insulin, as well as measures of diabetes and pre-diabetes, were also measured in the clinic at baseline and five years later, which is another strength,” she says. “The cohort study also measured many important confounders which we were able to control for, which is another strength.”

Even after controlling for participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the most sedentary people were more likely to have diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, and lower insulin sensitivity, according to the study. 

However, the most sedentary people at baseline were not more likely to develop diabetes or metabolic impairment over the next five years, according to Barone Gibbs. 

“However, it is less clear whether changing sedentary behavior will reduce long-term outcomes-we need longer studies and research evaluating interventions to inform that,” she says.

“People who are more sedentary have more metabolic disease. However, research demonstrating that changing sedentary behavior can improve metabolic health long-term is lacking and is a priority for scientists studying sedentary behavior. In the meantime, sedentary behavior is ubiquitous and finding ways to reduce sedentary behavior on the population level could improve health.”