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Sitting is Unhealthy … Unless You’re Physically Fit

Here’s some good news for a change about the health risks of prolonged sitting: a new study has found that it’s not so bad for you if you’re physically fit. Prolonged sitting at your desk, on your couch and in your car has previously been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and premature death. The study, at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, enrolled 1,304 men between 1981 and 2012. The participants reported on how much time they spent watching TV and sitting in their cars and took a treadmill test to determine their physical fitness. Results showed that once physical fitness was factored in, prolonged sitting was associated only with a higher ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, not the long list of health problems identified in earlier studies. This undoubtedly won’t be the last word on the subject, but it does hint that for those with desk jobs, long commutes and some TV time, the impact of sitting on health may not be as negative as earlier studies suggested.

Kerem Shuval et al, “Sedentary Behavior, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Physical Activity, and Cardiometabolic Risk in Men: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, doi 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.04.026

Is Sugar the New Tobacco?

That surprising notion – from the statement of a British health expert - was the lead story splashed across the front page of the British tabloid the Daily Mail, on January 8. The eye-catching headline heralded a new global campaign to stem the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The strategy begins by heightening public awareness of the amount of sugar hidden in processed food and drinks and inducing producers to slash the amount of added sugar in their products by 20 to 30 per cent within three to five years. That reduction would eliminate 100 calories a day from the typical diet, enough to halt or even reverse rising levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver and even cardiovascular disease and associated ill-health, according to Action on Sugar, the group spearheading the campaign. The amount of sugar hidden in processed foods and drinks amounts to a “public health hazard,” according to Action on Sugar’s scientific director.

My take? This is great news and long overdue. Sugar's negative impact on health is often cumulative, and virtually all Americans consume far too much - about 64 pounds per person per year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey. Awareness is key to changing behaviors, and prompting consumers to read labels may quickly convince them to seek products without added sugar. The best way to satisfy a sweet tooth is with foods in which the sugar naturally present is part of a whole food, such as in fresh or dried fruit, because the sugars are bound in a matrix of fiber that slows digestion and limits rapid increases in blood glucose. I applaud Action on Sugar and its goals.

Nathan Gray, “Action on Sugar: New Global Campaign Takes Aim at High Level of Sugar in Foods and Drinks,” Food and Drink, January 9, 2014, accessed January 10, 2014,