Sitting behavior and obesity: evidence from the Whitehall II study

Am J Prev Med. 2013 Feb;44(2):132-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.10.009.


Background: Prospective studies report associations between indicators of time spent sitting and obesity risk. Most studies use a single indicator of sedentary behavior and are unable to clearly identify whether sedentary behavior is a cause or a consequence of obesity.

Purpose: To investigate cross-sectional and prospective associations between multiple sitting time indicators and obesity and examine the possibility of reverse causality.

Methods: Using data from the Whitehall II cohort, multiple logistic models were fitted to examine associations between prevalent obesity (BMI ≥30) at Phase 5 (1997-1999), and incident obesity between Phases 5 and 7 (2003-2004) across four levels of five sitting exposures (work sitting, TV viewing, non-TV leisure-time sitting, leisure-time sitting, and total sitting). Using obesity data from three prior phases (1985-1988, 1991-1993; and recalled weight at age 25 years), linear regression models were fitted to examine the association between prior obesity and sitting time at Phase 5. Analyses were conducted in 2012.

Results: None of the sitting exposures were associated with obesity either cross-sectionally or prospectively. Obesity at one previous measurement phase was associated with a 2.43-hour/week (95% CI=0.07, 4.78) increase in TV viewing; obesity at three previous phases was associated with a 7.42-hour/week (95% CI=2.7, 12.46) increase in TV-viewing hours/week at Phase 5.

Conclusions: Sitting time was not associated with obesity cross-sectionally or prospectively. Prior obesity was prospectively associated with time spent watching TV per week but not other types of sitting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research Design
  • Risk
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Television*
  • Time Factors