Skip to main content

Sedentary Behavior and Body Weight and Composition in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Studies



The cumulative effect of too much sedentary behavior may contribute to weight gain and obesity.


The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohorts and randomized controlled studies to determine the association between sedentary behavior and body weight and obesity in adults.

Data Sources and Study Selection

Relevant studies were identified from searches of the MEDLINE, Embase, AMED and PubMed databases up to May 2017, and by manual searches of in-text citations. Studies that evaluated the association in adults between sedentary behavior and body weight or obesity, while controlling for physical activity, were included. Overall, 31 publications met the eligibility criteria, including 23 prospective cohort studies with data that could be extracted for a quantitative meta-analysis, and a single randomized controlled trial.


There were no significant associations between sedentary behavior and any measure of body weight or obesity, with the exception of waist circumference. For the latter outcome, over a 5-year follow-up period, each 1 h per day increase—from baseline to follow-up—in sedentary behavior was associated with a 0.02 mm [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.01–0.04; p = 0.001) increase in waist circumference. The odds ratio of becoming overweight or obese was 1.33 (95% CI 1.11–1.60; p = 0.001) in the highest compared with lowest categories of sedentary behavior.


Meta-analysis of data from prospective cohort studies showed small, inconsistent and non-significant associations between sedentary behavior and body weight.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    Sedentary Behaviour Research Network. Letter to the editor: standardized use of the terms “sedentary” and “sedentary behaviours”. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37:540–2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Biswas A, Oh P, Faulkner G, et al. Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:123–33.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown W, et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet. 2016;388:1302–10.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Brownson R, Boehmer T, Luke D. Declining rates of physical activity in the United States: What are the contributors? Annu Rev Public Health. 2005;26:421–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Schuna J, Johnson W, Tudor-Locke C. Adult self-reported and objectively monitored physical activity and sedentary behavior: NHANES 2005–2006. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013;10:126–38.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Júdice P, Hamilton M, Sardinha L, et al. What is the metabolic and energy cost of sitting, standing and sit/stand transitions? Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116:263–73.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Reiff C, Marlatt K, Dengel DR. Difference in caloric expenditure in sitting versus standing desks. J Phys Act Health. 2012;9:1009–11.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Creasy S, Rogers R, Byard T, et al. Energy expenditure during acute periods of sitting, standing, and walking. J Phys Act Health. 2016;13:573–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Swartz A, Squires L, Strath S. Energy expenditure of interruptions to sedentary behavior. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8:69–75.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Dunton G, Berrigan D, Ballard-Barbash R. Joint associations of physical activity and sedentary behaviors with body mass index: results from a time use survey of US adults. Int J Obes. 2009;33:1427–36.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Shields M, Tremblay M. Sedentary behaviour and obesity among Canadian adults. Health Rep. 2008;19:19–30.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Banks E, Jorm L, Rogers K, et al. Screen-time, obesity, ageing and disability: findings from 91 266 participants in the 45 and Up Study. Public Health Nutr. 2011;14:34–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Proper K, Singh A, Mechelen W, et al. Sedentary behaviors and health outcomes among adults. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40:174–82.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Rhodes R, Mark R, Temmel C. Adult sedentary behavior: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2012;42:e3–28.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Thorp A, Owen N, Neuhaus M, et al. Sedentary behaviors and subsequent health outcomes in adults. Am J Prev Med. 2011;41:207–15.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Liberati A, Altman D, Tetzlaff J, et al. The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Med. 2009;6:e1000100.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Wells G, O’Connell D, Peterson J, et al. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS) for assessing the quality of non-randomised studies in meta-analyses. Ottawa Hospital Research Institute; 2015.

  18. 18.

    Higgins J, Altman D, Gøtzsche P, et al. The Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing risk of bias in randomised trials. BMJ. 2011;343:d5928.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Higgins J, Thompson S, Deeks J, et al. Measuring inconsistency in meta-analyses. BMJ. 2003;327:557–60.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Biddle S, Edwardson C, Wilmot E, et al. A randomised controlled trial to reduce sedentary time in young adults at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: Project STAND (Sedentary Time ANd Diabetes). PLoS One. 2015;10:e0143398.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Altenburg T, Lakerveld J, Bot S, et al. The prospective relationship between sedentary time and cardiometabolic health in adults at increased cardiometabolic risk—the Hoorn Prevention Study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2014;11:540.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Coakley E, Rimm E, Colditz G, et al. Predictors of weight change in men: results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Int J Obes. 1998;22:89–96.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    De Cocker K, van Uffelen J, Brown W. Associations between sitting time and weight in young adult Australian women. Prev Med. 2010;51:361–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Golubic R, Wijndaele K, Sharp SJ, et al. Physical activity, sedentary time and gain in overall and central body fat: 7-year follow-up of the ProActive trial cohort. Int J Obes. 2015;39:142–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm E, et al. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392–404.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Eriksen D, Rosthøj S, Burr H, et al. Sedentary work-associations between five-year changes in occupational sitting time and body mass index. Prev Med. 2015;73:1–5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Mitchell J, Bottai M, Park Y, et al. A prospective study of sedentary behavior and changes in the body mass index distribution. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46:2244–52.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Pinto Pereira S, Power C. Sedentary behaviours in mid-adulthood and subsequent body mass index. PLoS One. 2013;8:e65791.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Jeffery R, French S. Epidemic obesity in the United States: are fast foods and television viewing contributing? Am J Public Health. 1998;88:277–80.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Saunders T, Tremblay M, Després J-P, et al. Sedentary behaviour, visceral fat accumulation and cardiometabolic risk in adults: a 6-year longitudinal study from the Quebec family study. PLoS One. 2013;8:e54225.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Menai M, Charreire H, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. Determining the association between types of sedentary behaviours and cardiometabolic risk factors: a 6-year longitudinal study of French adults. Diabetes Metab. 2016;42:112–21.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Saidj M, Jorgensen T, Jacobsen R, et al. Work and leisure time sitting and inactivity: effects on cardiorespiratory and metabolic health. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2016;23:1321–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Drenowatz C, Cai B, Hand G, et al. Prospective association between body composition, physical activity and energy intake in young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;70:482–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Bak H, Petersen L, Sørensen T. Physical activity in relation to development and maintenance of obesity in men with and without juvenile onset obesity. Int J Obes. 2004;28:99–104.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Hu F, Li T, Colditz G, et al. Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA. 2003;289:1785–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Pulsford R, Stamatakis E, Britton A, et al. Sitting behavior and obesity. Am J Prev Med. 2013;44:132–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Smith L, Fisher A, Hamer M. Television viewing time and risk of incident obesity and central obesity: the English longitudinal study of ageing. BMC Obes. 2015;2:12.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Brown W, Kabir E, Clark B, et al. Maintaining a healthy BMI: data from a 16-year study of young Australian women. Am J Prev Med. 2016;51:e165–78.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Su C, Jia X, Wang Z, et al. Longitudinal association of leisure time physical activity and sedentary behaviors with body weight among Chinese adults from China Health and Nutrition Survey 2004–2011. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;71:383–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Wijndaele K, Healy G, Dunstan D, et al. Increased cardio-metabolic risk is associated with increased TV viewing time. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42:1511–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Koh-Banerjee P, Chu N-F, Spiegelman D, et al. Prospective study of the association of changes in dietary intake, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking with 9-y gain in waist circumference among 16 587 US men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78:719–27.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Wijndaele K, Orrow G, Ekelund U, et al. Increasing objectively measured sedentary time increases clustered cardiometabolic risk: a 6 year analysis of the ProActive study. Diabetologia. 2014;57:305–12.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Shibata A, Oka K, Sugiyama T, et al. Physical activity, television viewing time, and 12-year changes in waist circumference. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48:633–40.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Meyer A-M, Evenson K, Couper D, et al. Television, physical activity, diet, and body weight status: the ARIC cohort. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2008;5:68.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Blanck H, McCullough M, Patel A, et al. Sedentary behavior, recreational physical activity, and 7-year weight gain among postmenopausal US women. Obesity. 2007;15:1578–88.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Helajärvi H, Rosenström T, Pahkala K, et al. Exploring causality between TV viewing and weight change in young and middle-aged adults. The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. PLoS One. 2014;9:e101860.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Pedisic Z, Grunseit A, Ding D, et al. High sitting time or obesity: which came first? Bidirectional association in a longitudinal study of 31,787 Australian adults. Obesity. 2014;22:2126–30.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Raynor DA, Phelan S, Hill JO, et al. Television viewing and long-term weight maintenance: results from the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity. 2006;14:1816–24.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Stamatakis E, Hamer M, Mishra G. Early adulthood television viewing and cardiometabolic risk profiles in early middle age: results from a population, prospective cohort study. Diabetologia. 2012;55:311–20.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Sugiyama T, Ding D, Owen N. Commuting by car: weight gain among physically active adults. Am J Prev Med. 2013;44:169–73.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Healy G, Eakin E, Owen N, et al. A cluster randomized controlled trial to reduce office workers’ sitting time. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48:1787–97.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Grøntved A, Hu F. Television viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2011;305:2448–55.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Dunstan D, Barr E, Healy G, et al. Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Circulation. 2010;121:384–91.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Matthews C, George S, Moore S, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:437–45.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Dempsey P, Larsen R, Sethi P, et al. Benefits for type 2 diabetes of interrupting prolonged sitting with brief bouts of light walking or simple resistance activities. Diabetes Care. 2016;39:964–72.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Dunstan D, Kingwell B, Larsen R, et al. Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. Diabetes Care. 2012;35:976–83.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Henson J, Davies M, Bodicoat D, et al. Breaking up prolonged sitting with standing or walking attenuates the postprandial metabolic response in postmenopausal women: a randomized acute study. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(1):130–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Peddie M, Bone J, Rehrer N, et al. Breaking prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glycemia in healthy, normal-weight adults: a randomized crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98:358–66.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Homer A, Fenemor S, Perry T, et al. Regular activity breaks combined with physical activity improve postprandial plasma triglyceride, nonesterified fatty acid, and insulin responses in healthy, normal weight adults: a randomized crossover trial. J Clin Lipidol. 2017;11:1268–79.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Donnelly J, Blair S, Jakicic J, American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand, et al. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:459–71.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Chastin S, Palarea-Albaladejo J, Dontje M, et al. Combined effects of time spent in physical activity, sedentary behaviors and sleep on obesity and cardio-metabolic health markers: a novel compositional data analysis approach. PLoS One. 2015;10:e0139984.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Meredith C. Peddie.

Ethics declarations


Scott Campbell’s work was supported by a Publishing Bursary from the University of Otago. Meredith Peddie’s work was supported by a Research Fellowship from the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand (Grant no. 1518). No other sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Scott Campbell, Bradley Brosnan, Anna Chu, C. Murray Skeaff, Nancy Rehrer, Tracy Perry and Meredith Peddie declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

Electronic supplementary material

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Campbell, S.D.I., Brosnan, B.J., Chu, A.K.Y. et al. Sedentary Behavior and Body Weight and Composition in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Studies. Sports Med 48, 585–595 (2018).

Download citation