The Nine-Letter Dirty Word of Obesity (concluded)

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A lot of dirty words have only four letters, but this one has nine, and Childhood Obesity News has been looking at why so many medical professionals think “sedentary” is a dangerous word that signifies frightening futures. For instance, Gretchen Reynolds reported for The New York Times how:

[…] researchers determined that watching an hour of television can snip 22 minutes from someone’s life. If an average man watched no TV in his adult life, the authors concluded, his life span might be 1.8 years longer, and a TV-less woman might live for a year and half longer than otherwise.

Writing for the Mayo Clinic, Jennifer Nelson and Katherine Zeratsky also give longevity estimates based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys:

If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly:

  • 2 years (by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day)
  • 1.4 years (by reducing TV time to less than 2 hours a day)

Length of life is not the only issue. Quality of life is hugely important. Quality of life is very much diminished when the persistently sedentary patient develops hypertension, elevated blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, or colon cancer.

Persuasive connective lines have been drawn between all these conditions and too much sitting. Moreover, cardiovascular disease experienced by the overly sedentary appears to be unassociated with known risk factors like smoking.

No doubt, all the diseases people can get from sitting too much can eventually contribute to obesity. The worse a person feels, the less inclined she or he is to do active things, leading to the occurrence of one of the vicious cycles to which humans are so prone. Sitting is the villain here. The sedentary life is the unhealthy life.

On the other hand…

On the positive side, research has found plenty of benefits to moving around. Frequent physical activity, even if mild, seems to increase insulin sensitivity, which is good. And hormonal imbalances seem to be affected for the better. Inflammation is not so severe. Body fat is reduced.

A University of Massachusetts study showed that volunteers who stood up all day used up a lot more energy and “burned hundreds more calories,” than when they sat for the same period of time. This was just standing, not jogging or even walking. Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic says:

[…] [T]he muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body.

Being a helpful person can create benefits for the self. A reader relates her experience working in the office of a large church:

I don’t just give directions, but accompany visitors to the part of the building they need. If a tape dispenser is missing from one of the desks, I go and look for it. If someone returns a pair of crutches loaned by the church’s medical equipment center, I volunteer to go put them away. I check the mailbox at the main entrance, sometimes knowing the mail hasn’t been delivered yet. Any excuse to get up and move.

From the pros

For daily life, Dr. Levine and his colleagues makes these suggestions (condensed here):

  • Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch
  • Try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter
  • Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room
  • Position your work surface above a treadmill
  • Walk or bike to work
  • Use a “fitness ball” in place of a chair
  • Keep small weights or giant rubber bands in your desk for quick exercise breaks
  • Hold a meeting while walking, inside or outside
  • When traveling on business, choose a hotel with a workout room

A website called suggests, not surprisingly, more ways to stay upright and/or mobile:

  • Park your car farther away… Use stairs, not elevators; take a long route
  • While computing, set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every half hour
  • Don’t send emails if the recipient is near; walk over and talk to him or her
  • Avoid long sitting commutes by standing on the bus, subway or train
  • When watching TV, lose the remote; get up to change the channels
  • Stand or exercise while you watch TV
  • During intense gaming, stand up in between sessions and screen loads

The Washington Post not only makes suggestions, but offers a series of 12 brief animated videos, just to show how to do exercises that might reasonably be adapted into the work environment. The movements were developed by:

Toni Yancey, professor of health services at UCLA… Alice Burron, exercise physiologist… Catrine Tudor-Locke, who studies walking behavior… [E]xperts whose jobs involve studying motion, preventing obesity and generally getting people off their duffs.

Even if it can’t be directly proven that any of these suggestions will prevent the gain of pounds, none of them can hurt.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Don’t Just Sit There,” The New York Times, 04/28/12
Source: “Do you have ‘sitting disease’?,”, 07/25/12
Source: “What are the risks of sitting too much?,”, 06/16/12
Source: “Workplace exercises: How to burn calories at work,”, 09/24/11
Source: “The Facts,”
Source: “A workout at work?,” The Washington Post, undated
Image by William Murphy.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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