The media love a good scare and a sensational headline, but new research indicates the fear they spread about the dangers of sitting too much may be overblown.
In recent years, media outlets compared sitting to health risks like smoking, and even warned “Sitting will kill you.” Today told viewers sitting was “literally killing us” back on Sept. 18, 2015. ABC’s Deborah Roberts even claimed sitting was “one of the greatest risks to our health.” One expert CBS turned to went so far as to claim “any” sitting was “too much.”
“Mounting evidence shows that sitting is just as risky as smoking,” co-anchor Charlie Rose claimed on CBS This Morning July 29, 2014 . “Some studies find that for every hour we sit, two hours of life are lost.”
Dr. James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic, agreed with Rose, “So excess sitting has been associated with 34 different chronic diseases. Now 80 percent of people don’t smoke, but all of us sit, and most of us excessively. And so the cumulative impact of all that chronic disease makes sitting a bigger enemy, if you like, than smoking.” Levine was guest of multiple reports and broadcast networks, telling people sitting was “shaving years off our lives.”
ABC also compared sitting to smoking. On Oct. 21, 2010, World News Roberts discussed it with Professor Mark Hamilton who said, “[s]moking and sitting too much have some striking parallels. It’s global, it’s common and it’s hazardous.
But according to a new study, “sitting is not associated with an increased risk of dying,” The Washington Post reported on Oct. 14. Researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London tracked 5,132 participants over a period of 16 years and found mortality risk wasn’t impacted by sitting. The Post said the researchers found “sitting is no worse than standing for a person who doesn’t otherwise move his or her body.”
“Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” one author of the study Melvyn Hillsdon said. "Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing."
The study’s researchers also cautioned against emphasizing not sitting, rather than promoting general physical activity. But that was exactly what many of the network news segments did.
Dr. Jon LaPook, chief medical correspondent for CBS, cautioned that sitting for long periods of time increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, on CBS Evening News Jan. 19, 2015. Dr. Michael Rozien added, “[t]he human body is this wonderful thing where we get to postpone or diminish chronic disease just by getting out of our chair once every half hour.”
ABC correspondent Linsey Davis warned, “[n]o matter how little you eat, or how much you exercise, too much sitting by itself may broaden your bottom,” on Dec. 5, 2011.
NBC found a doctor to argue much the same during the Jan. 10, 2013, Rock Center with Brian Williams. That program emphasized the dangers of sitting over the need for exercise.
Dr. Levine told Rock Center viewers, “[it] appears that what is critical, and maybe even more important than going to the gym, is breaking up that sitting time.”