Friday, March 05, 2010

Now it's CHAIRS that are bad for you

This is all just the usual epidemiological nonsense. There is no double-blind support for it. All that it probably shows is that people in poor health sit down more. Big surprise!

The science is in and it's scary. Sitting down is bad for you - very bad. So much so that some workplaces are starting to act. Lissa Christopher, who wrote this story standing up, reports.

The time has come for office chairs to come with a health warning and "upholstered, height-adjustable weapons of mass destruction" might not be too much an exaggeration. Sitting for prolonged periods - and, let's face it, few places compete with the office when it comes to opportunities to park one's behind - is now linked to increased risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cancer.

What's more, these risks are not necessarily mitigated by those few hours a week you might spend running, swimming or pumping weights at the gym. That kind of exercise is still important, so don't stop, but sitting for prolonged periods appears to be a health hazard itself, much as smoking is a health hazard even if you also happen to be a devoted jogger. The science is scary and has prompted some bosses to re-think how they make their office staff work.

Some of the most recent findings come from an Australian study published in the journal Circulation in January. It found that for every hour that a person spends sitting in front of the television, their individual risk of death from all causes rose 11 per cent, their risk of death from cardiovascular disease rose 18 per cent and their risk of dying from cancer, 9 per cent.

Professor David Dunstan, of Melbourne's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and the paper's lead author, is keen to emphasise that the research is not about TV watching per se but about sitting, wherever it might be. "Television viewing time is a reasonable indicator of a person's overall sedentary pattern," he says. "Modern society has come to mean a lot of us simply shift from chair to chair throughout the day: seat in the car, the office, the couch at home."

Several medical research bodies - including Sweden's Karolinska Institute and, in the US, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Mayo Clinic - have been looking into the specific mechanisms that link time spent on one's bum with poor health. One is obvious and well-known: fewer calories are burnt, you get fatter and there are health consequences. The other is more insidious. It seems that muscle contractions - even very small ones such as those required to keep us standing upright - trigger important processes to do with the breakdown of fats and sugars. When we sit down, those muscle contractions cease and the processing stalls. The good news is they restart shortly after we stand up again.

"You increase your metabolic rate between 10 and 20 per cent above resting simply by getting up off your bottom - not walking anywhere, but simply standing up," says says Dr James Levine, professor of medicine with the Mayo Clinic.

"And there is a whole cascade of metabolic [phenomena] that are activated within two minutes, perhaps sooner, of getting up and bearing your own weight. That cascade involves insulin receptor activation, lipo protein lipase [an enzyme that helps break down fat] activity and more. And these things are deactivated within several minutes of getting down off your legs." The value to human health of prolonged but low-level movement is vastly underestimated, he says.

Last year, Baker IDI and the cancer prevention research centre at the University of Sydney measured the amount of time people with sedentary jobs spent sitting and found that office, call centre and retail employees spent 77 per cent of the day seated. That's 31 hours a week planted on a chair for an employee working a 38-hour week; 46 if working a 60-hour week.

In a booklet titled Stand Up Australia, published with Medibank Private, they recommended that employers: consider sedentary time in their occupational health and safety policies just as they do seating posture; audit levels of sitting among staff; and "explore opportunities to reduce sitting in the workplace". And there is the challenge: reducing office sitting time while maintaining productivity.

Professor Dunstan could easily spend far too many hours on chair each week himself but he doesn't.

"I've introduced a stand-up desk into my work routine," he says, "and I have become conditioned to being able to stand for a predominant part of the day. And I don't stand still."

Professor Levine has taken on the movement challenge in ways both big and small. "I have a two-metre-long curly cord between the telephone and the handset, so I'm able to just pace around as I talk to you, looking out at the freezing snow of Minnesota," he tells the Herald. He has also been heavily involved with the design of the Steelcase Walkstation, a treadmill desk at which one can use a computer, talk on the phone, read etc, all the while strolling at a sedate two-or-so kilometres an hour. Levine uses one himself and has introduced them (and stationary bicycle desks, too) to a range of workplaces, mostly in the US.


Government demands thicker fries to help Britain's obesity crisis

They have been a staple of British cuisine for more than a century. But traditional chips are the latest target in the Government's war on obesity. Chip shop owners are being encouraged to produce thicker versions because they contain fewer calories and less fat.

The traditional British chip is already thicker - and therefore healthier - than the French fries served by big fast-food chains. Despite this, officials from the Food Standards Agency watchdog are encouraging chip shop owners to produce even thicker versions, much like potato wedges.

Douglas Roxburgh, president of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, described the move as 'totally unfair'. 'They should be concentrating on fast food outlets who make the thin French fries, not the traditional independent chip shop,' he said. 'We will be opposing this as much as we can until they make it a level playing field and start asking McDonald's, KFC and Burger King to change their chip sizes too.' He warned chip shops would also be forced to pay for new chip cutters with different sized blades.

The chef Aldo Zilli said: 'Providing we are not eating chips every day and cooking them in healthier oils, I don't think on this occasion size really has to matter.'

One in four British potatoes is made into chips, or around 1.5million tons a year - enough to stretch around the world 76 times. There are more than 11,000 fish and chip shops in the UK selling 255million meals every year. It is thought chips were first imported into Britain from France in the 18th century as 'pommes frites'. But it was not until the 1850s that Britons developed a taste for them.

The FSA scheme will cover Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Northern Ireland by the end of this month. Officials will visit 80 chip shops to examine how much fat is in their chips and offer advice. If the pilot scheme is successful it will be rolled out across the country and last two years. Other small caterers including Indian and Chinese takeaways will be included. A spokesman for the FSA said: 'The aim of the pilot project is to produce some targeted advice for businesses which is simple, practical and easy to implement.'


1 comment:

John A said...

Chairs -
Professor Levine has taken on the movement challenge in ways both big and small. "I have a two-metre-long curly cord between the telephone and the handset, so I'm able to just pace around as I talk to you, looking out at the freezing snow of Minnesota," he tells the Herald.

Even for a landline rather than a cell phone, this guy is more than a decade out of date. It has been longer than that for the available uncorded handset. With the bonuses of not having to untangle the twisted-up cord, or untangle your feet from the dangling-to-the-floor cord...