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Is Sitting the New Smoking?

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Possibly.

Sitting for long periods of time is proven to negatively affect one's health and even result in early mortality. Studies conducted by reliable and credible organizations and in turn published in peer-reviewed academic journals provide evidence on the dangers of prolonged sitting. However, the research fails to compare the dangers of sitting to the dangers of smoking. Despite the documented dangers of sitting, we could not find empirical evidence that it is as dangerous as smoking. Therefore, it cannot be definitively stated that sitting is the new smoking.

Origin and Prevalence

Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist in Rochester, Minnesota affiliated with Mayo Clinic Phoenix and inventor of the treadmill desk, refers to sitting as the new smoking in his 2014 book, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. The period before and after the publication of the book, researchers and medical research institutes reported evidence supporting the argument on the dangers of sitting for 30 minutes or longer. Publications such as LA Times, The Huffington Post, CNN Health and Forbes wrote on this issue. The authors at the LA Times wrote about the information they learned from Dr. Levine's book and their conversation with him during a phone interview. The Huffington Post presents an article from a publication called The Active Times, which uses studies from two academic journals that present data on the dangers of sitting. Lastly, CNN Health and Forbes wrote about the dangers of sitting and what could be done about it in nearly the same way as the publications above. There seems to be a consensus among health professionals that sitting for long periods of time can result in significant health issues and they agree that sitting is more dangerous than smoking. Dr. Levine has since updated his position and has stated that sitting could be worse than smoking.

Issues and Analysis

Numerous results come up in the Google search of "Is sitting the new smoking?" speaking to the popularity of the topic. Finding out whether the proposition is factual becomes difficult because multiple articles repeat the same information, refer to the same studies, and play the pronoun game by stating, "they say." Other analyses provided present evidence that prove that sitting can be detrimental to one's health. However, these sources fail to illustrate the how the dangers of sitting compare to those of smoking. The statement "sitting is the new smoking" is certainly one that would attract a lot of ears but thus far, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that sitting is indeed the new smoking.

However, Nilofer Merchant provides numerical evidence that presented the effects of obesity in America. Obesity in this instance is among the many health problems that result from a sedentary lifestyle. In the article linked above, the author compares the negative effects of obesity with that of extended sitting. Merchant, the author compares the death rate associated to obesity versus that associated with tobacco. It turns out that the death rate associated with obesity in the USA as of 2013 is 35 million whereas death rate association with Tobacco is only 3.5 million in comparison. In this instance, there is a evidence to suggest that sitting could be the new smoking. However, obesity has many causal factors.

The takeaway is that a sedentary lifestyle results in healthy problems but only some of those problems may be as bad as if not worse than smoking. Health professionals recommend moving around every 30 minutes if you have a sedentary job or a habit to sit for long periods of time.


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The Digital Polarization Initiative is a student-run project which allows university students to investigate questions of truth and authority on the web and publish their results. Learn more, or see our index. Photo credits here. DigiPo members can edit this page.