Background: Sedentary behaviours, defined as non exercising seated activities, have been shown to have deleterious effects on health. It has been hypothesised that too much sitting time can have a detrimental effect on bone health in youth. The aim of this study is to test this hypothesis by exploring the association between objectively measured volume and patterns of time spent in sedentary behaviours, time spent in specific screen-based sedentary pursuits and bone mineral content (BMC) accrual in youth.
Methods: NHANES 2005-2006 cycle data includes BMC of the femoral and spinal region via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), assessment of physical activity and sedentary behaviour patterns through accelerometry, self reported time spent in screen based pursuits (watching TV and using a computer), and frequency of vigorous playtime and strengthening activities. Multiple regression analysis, stratified by gender was performed on N = 671 males and N = 677 females aged from 8 to 22 years.
Results: Time spent in screen-based sedentary behaviours is negatively associated with femoral BMC (males and females) and spinal BMC (females only) after correction for time spent in moderate and vigorous activity. Regression coefficients indicate that an additional hour per day of screen-based sitting corresponds to a difference of -0.77 g femoral BMC in females [95% CI: -1.31 to -0.22] and of -0.45 g femoral BMC in males [95% CI: -0.83 to -0.06]. This association is attenuated when self-reported engagement in regular (average 5 times per week) strengthening exercise (for males) and vigorous playing (for both males and females) is taken into account. Total sitting time and non screen-based sitting do not appear to have a negative association with BMC, whereas screen based sedentary time does. Patterns of intermittence between periods of sitting and moderate to vigorous activity appears to be positively associated with bone health when activity is clustered in time and inter-spaced with long continuous bouts of sitting.
Conclusions: Some specific sedentary pursuits (screen-based) are negatively associated with bone health in youth. This association is specific to gender and anatomical area. This relationship between screen-based time and bone health is independent of the total amount of physical activity measured objectively, but not independent of self-reported frequency of strengthening and vigorous play activities. The data clearly suggests that the frequency, rather than the volume, of osteogenic activities is important in counteracting the effect of sedentary behaviour on bone health. The pattern of intermittence between sedentary periods and activity also plays a role in bone accrual, with clustered short bouts of activity interspaced with long periods of sedentary behaviours appearing to be more beneficial than activities more evenly spread in time.