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Less sitting is good for your health

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In yet another study on the risks associated with sedentary behaviour, a new U.S. analysis suggests that limiting th  e amount of time spent sitting to less than three hours a day might boost life expectancy by two years.

Moreover, restricting television viewing to less than two hours per day could extend life by almost 1.4 years, according to findings published Monday in the online British Medical Journal.

The authors at Louisiana State University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School emphasize that their analysis assumes a theoretical association rather than proving that there is one.

They caution that their findings should not be interpreted as meaning that someone who leads a more sedentary lifestyle can expect to live two or 1.4 years less than someone who is more active.

The research provides an estimate of life expectancy based on a survey of self-reported sitting time (at work and watching television) applied against the known risks of sedentary behaviour.

For their analysis, the Louisiana and Boston researchers used data collected for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which regularly surveys a large representative sample of the U.S. population on various aspects of their health and lifestyle.

The researchers used self-reported data for 2005-06 and 2009-10 to determine that U.S. adults spend 55 per cent of their day engaged in sedentary pursuits such as watching TV and sitting down on a daily basis.

They then trawled the research database Medline and pooled the relative risk data from five relevant studies on sitting time and deaths from all causes, involving almost 167,000 adults. The database was then reanalyzed, taking age and sex into account.

They combined these data and the NHANES figures to come up with an estimate of the theoretical effects of a risk factor on a population, rather than an individual level, to calculate the number of deaths associated with time spent sitting down.

"The results of this study indicate that extended sitting time and TV viewing may have the potential to reduce life expectancy," the researchers wrote.

"Given that the results from objective monitoring of sedentary time in NHANES has indicated that adults spend an average of 55 per cent of their day engaged in sedentary pursuits, a significant shift in behaviour change at the population level is required to make demonstrable improvements in life expectancy.”

Further research is needed to determine safe levels of sedentary behaviour, they said. Several previous studies have linked extended periods spent sitting down and/or watching TV to poor health, such as diabetes and death from heart disease and stroke.

Pervious studies have show that relationship between sedentary behaviour and ill health are independent of the level of overall physical activity. For example, spending large amounts of time being sedentary may increase the risk of some health outcomes, even among people who are active at the recommended levels

he results of a new survey conducted by MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition...Do it!) and Netmums at the outset of National Childhood Obesity Week reveal that 40% of parents are concerned that talking to their child about their weight will lead to an eating disorder. This figure rises to 65% of parents who identify their child as being overweight or obese.

More than 1,000 parents with a child aged 5-16 responded to the ‘Let’s talk about weight’ survey on Netmums and shared how they feel about bringing up the topic of weight with their child.

Over a third of parents (37%) feel that talking to their child about their weight might lower their self-esteem. Despite such concerns 42% of parents have attempted to talk to their child about weight but almost half of parents who had an overweight or obese child said it was an unhelpful experience for the family

Two thirds of parents (66%) said they’d like more support in talking to their child about weight. This increased to 85% of parents with an overweight or obese child

Only 32% of parents found it difficult to help their child stay healthy. However, this wasn’t the case for parents with an overweight or obese child as three quarters (72%) of these parents said they found it difficult to help their child to stay healthy. Most attributed this to their child’s preference for foods high in fat and sugar.

Three quarters of parents often talked to their children about what they eat (eg telling them to eat less junk food, asking them to eat more fruit and vegetables etc...) but over half of these parents haven’t talked to them about their weight.

This shows there needs to be more support for parents to broach the subject of weight with their overweight or obese child. MEND and Netmums are calling on more parents to find out if their child is a healthy weight or not by checking their BMI and taking steps to do something about the problem if necessary.

15% of parents reported that their child was overweight or obese. More than a third of all parents identified their child’s weight by looking at them orcomparing them to other children their age, rather than measuring their weight or getting it confirmed by a doctor.

Research shows that telling if a child is overweight by sight alone is generally inaccurate and usually leads parents of overweight children to mistakenly conclude that are a healthy weight. If left unrecognised this may have major implications for the child’s future health.

With over a third of children classed as overweight or obese in the UK, only a very small proportion of them are getting the practical support they urgently need to reach and maintain a healthier weight. The government clearly needs to do more to support these families.

We estimate that in the period 2005-10, approximately £1bn was spent per year on the prevention of child obesity, whilst in the same period; approximately £10m per year was spent on first line treatment. The government is spending significantly more money on preventing healthy weight children with less risk of becoming obese adults while under spending on children who are already overweight or obese and at a far greater risk of becoming obese adults.

MEND’s local healthy lifestyle programmes give children, families and adults the tools and knowledge to become fitter and healthier for life. Research shows that children on MEND increase their fitness levels, have a healthier diet, reduce their BMI and improve their body image and receive a boost in self-esteem.

Paul Sacher, co-founder and Chief Research and Development Officer at MEND says: “With obesity reaching epidemic proportions and becoming the 'norm', it can be very difficult for parents to tell if their child is a healthy weight or not simply by looking at them. The easiest way to check if your child is a healthy weight or not is to measure their weight and height and then to use an online BMI calculator (www.mendcentral.org).

"Through working with overweight and obese children and their families in local communities across the UK, we know the effect that unhealthy lifestyles and the obesogenic environment is having on our nation. With obesity-induced illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer currently costing the NHS £5.1bn, the financial and human pain caused by obesity has never been clearer. The government must act now and prioritise obesity services in local communities to provide a healthier future for our nation.”

Dr Paul Chadwick, co-founder, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at MEND: “The majority of parents of overweight and obese children are taking the courageous step of talking with their child about weight related issues despite concerns that by doing so they may also be doing harm. This is an awful situation for parents to find themselves in and many parents are probably quite distressed about this. Our survey shows that they clearly want and need more help in this area.”

 “With obesity affecting a third of the UK’s children, we can no longer afford for weight to be a taboo subject. It’s crucial that we talk about obesity in a helpful way with a focus on the positive aspects of being healthy rather than ‘looking good’. At MEND we can support parents and health professionals to talk about weight in a way which supports children to become fitter, healthier and happier.”

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said: "Tackling the issue of children's weight is a growing problem and it's concerning a third of parents are avoiding the issue for fear of lowering their child's self-esteem. Every parent wants the best for their child and although initially it may be a tough conversation to have, the family talking together and working together to find healthier ways of eating will lead to happier and healthier children."

"Good eating habits are passed on from parent to child and at Netmums we have lots of hints and tips for time-pressed parents to prepare quick nutritious dishes. With this survey showing one in five kids worried about their body, we'd urge all parents to work with MEND to check their child's weight is healthy."