Sitting down has been linked to around 50,000 deaths per year in the UK and costs the NHS at least £700 million annually , according to experts.
Scientists studied the effect of being sedentary six hours or more per day, whether at work or home.
The Health Survey for England 2012 reported that 30% of adults in England spent at least six hours a day sedentary on weekdays and 37% of adults on weekends.
Previous studies have shown that spending large parts of the day sitting down increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and death and is a burden on health services.
But no estimate of the financial impact this has on the NHS had been calculated before.
And the authors of the study say these costs are probably a conservative estimate because sitting down is also likely to be associated with several other cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health disorders, not included in their analysis.
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University found a large proportion of the UK population have jobs and hobbies where they are sitting down.
National Health Service costs associated with prolonged sedentary behaviour, six hours or more a day, were estimated over a 1-year period in 2016–2017 costs.
They calculated a population attributable fraction (PAF) for five health outcomes, type
2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease [CVD], colon cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer.
Adjustments were made for potential double-counting due to more than one cause of death.
They also calculated the avoidable deaths due to prolonged sedentary behaviour using the PAF forall-cause mortality.
Official physical activity recommendations regarding this are vague, according to the team.
The researchers say their results suggest that 11.6 per cent of all deaths were associated with sitting down and that 48,024 deaths might have been avoided in 2016 if the behaviour was eliminated in the UK.
The total NHS costs attributable to prolonged sedentary behaviour in the UK in 2016–2017 were £0.8 billion, which included expenditure on CVD (£424million), type 2 diabetes (£281million), colon cancer (£30million), lung cancer (£19million) and
endometrial cancer (£7million).
After adjustment for potential double-counting, the estimated total was £0.7
Lead author, Leonie Heron, a postgraduate researcher from the Centre of Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Many individuals in the UK spend their leisure time in sedentary behaviour, and the workplace represents a significant proportion of unavoidable daily sitting time for many people.
“If sedentary behaviour was eliminated in the UK, 48 024 deaths in 2016 might have been avoided.
“More realistically, if levels of sedentary behaviour were 10%, 30% or 50% lower in
2016, we might have avoided 4802, 12 006 or 24 012 deaths,respectively.”
She added: “This study had several strengths. We have calculated PAFs for sedentary behaviour in the UK using the best data available, and we have included all conditions reported as having moderate to strong evidence of an association.”
The study was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health today.