Distribution and determinants of sedentary lifestyles in the European Union

Int J Epidemiol. 2003 Feb;32(1):138-46. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyg116.


Background: Many studies have shown the health burden of a sedentary lifestyle. The main goal of this study was to determine the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the 15 Member States of the European Union (EU) and to identify the main correlates of a sedentary lifestyle.

Methods: Nationally representative samples (n approximately 1000 subjects in each country; >15 years) completed a questionnaire concerning attitudes to physical activity, body weight, and health; in total 15 239 subjects. Sedentary people were defined in two ways: (1) those expending less than 10% of their leisure time expenditure in activities involving >/=4 metabolic equivalents (MET). (2) Those who did not practice any leisure-time physical activity and who also were above the median in the number of hours spent sitting down during leisure time. Logistic regression models were fitted to analyse the association between sedentary lifestyles and gender, age, body mass index (BMI), educational level, weight change in the last 6 months, and marital and smoking status.

Results: Percentages of sedentary lifestyles across European countries ranged between 43.3% (Sweden) and 87.8% (Portugal) according to the first definition. According to both definitions, a lower prevalence of sedentary lifestyle was found in Northern countries (especially Scandinavian countries) as compared with Mediterranean countries, whereas the prevalence was higher among older, obese, less educated, widowed/divorced individuals, and current smokers. Similar relative differences between countries and socio-demographic groups were found independently of the method used to define a sedentary lifestyle.

Conclusion: Prevalence of sedentary lifestyle in the EU is high, especially among inhabitants of some Mediterranean countries, obese subjects, less-educated people, and current smokers. This high prevalence involves important public health burdens and preventive strategies are urgently needed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Educational Status
  • European Union
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking
  • Social Class