The health risks associated with physical inactivity and prolonged periods of sitting have been highly publicized lately, but with a few misconceptions. Though few are currently denying that sitting for most of the day does not come without health repercussions, researchers are finding that sitting time is not associated with having a poorer diet, as some may have imagined. Instead, a new study published in Preventive Medicine finds that the activity of sitting itself is not responsible for a high calorie diet.

Sedentary behavior is becoming a major problem for most Americans; though we are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between inactivity and eventual health conditions, we are not adhering to standards of physical activity prescribed for us, according to the study press release. In a previous study, researchers found a fascinating relationship between many health behaviors, like physical activity, diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption. They discovered that those who participated in one health risk behavior, were more likely to engage in others; overall, 20 percent of participants being studied adapted three lifestyle risks as habits. Surprisingly, only three percent of the examined population displayed lifestyle behaviors in line with healthy recommendations, like maintaining a healthy weight, eating the daily recommended portion of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough physical activity.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society in conjunction with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and the University of Texas School decided to examine how one unhealthy behavior affects another, specifically how a sedentary lifestyle affects diet. The side effects of sitting prove to be a new topic of interest for health professionals, as more and more studies are finding evidence that a lifestyle associated with excessive TV viewing, or spending too much time sitting at home or at work, can lead to increased risk of obesity, certain cancers, and premature death. With previous studies focusing on self-reports by participants about sedentary behavior, this new study utilized accelerometers, an instrument used to measure the amount of time spent inactive.

What researchers found proved somewhat surprising; while consistent physical activity ranging from moderate to vigorous was correlated with eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming less calories overall, sedentary behavior was not related to overall fruit and vegetable intake. Researchers did observe, however, that more sitting did often mean consuming more empty calories.

Researchers believe their study sheds some new light on how unhealthy behaviors may have relational patterns, but concede that using accelerometer technology was unable to measure what types of physical activity, or sedentary behaviors subjects were participating in. Because subjects only wore their monitors for four to seven days, researchers are also unsure of whether these behaviors constitute long-term habits.

Even so, these findings do suggest that something more is at play between sedentary behavior and subsequent diets. It is likely that activities done while sitting may be to blame for choices of calories, for instance, watching TV advertisements about high calorie foods, rather than sitting itself. Regardless, sedentary behavior even without the correlation of poor diet still comes with major adverse effects; our bodies were built to move, and sitting all day does not let us do what nature intended.

Source: Shuval K, Nguyen B, Drope J, et al. Accelerometer determined sedentary behavior and dietary quality among US adults. Preventive Medicine. 2015.