Watching TV and Other Sedentary Behaviors Linked to Increased Belly Fat

Charlie Plain | October 26, 2016

New research from School of Public Health post-doctoral fellow Kara Whitaker provides evidence that individuals who do a lot of sitting, particularly while watching television, have more abdominal fat, and therefore, may be at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes.

The study was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Whitaker and a team of researchers used data from the long-running NIH CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study to look at adipose tissue and liver fat in middle-aged Black and White men and women. They analyzed how the amounts of fat were related to sedentary, or sitting, behaviors, like watching television.

The study showed that watching television was positively associated with fat deposits. In fact, for every added hour and a half spent watching television each day, abdominal fat increased by about three cubic centimeters.

Currently, there are no national guidelines on sedentary behaviors, like watching TV.

“The next step would be to determine what amount of sedentary time puts people at the greatest risk and offer suggestions for ways to decrease the amount of time spent sitting,” says Whitaker.

Senior author Professor Mark Pereira said the research team also plans to use the same cohort study to examine sedentary behaviors in relation to chronic disease risk factors.

“Additionally, we are conducting experimental studies to test strategies for reducing sedentary behavior by replacing it with standing and light activity in adults who spend most of their days sitting,” says Pereira.

Given the study’s results, the research team recommends that people reduce the amount of time they spend watching television, or alternately, be more active while doing so. Examples of activities they suggest doing include riding an exercise bike while watching TV or moving around during commercial breaks.

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