Identifying health consequences of, and the social and environmental determinants for, physical activity and sedentary behaviour

This project aims to identify patterns of physical activity and sedentary behaviour for future development of large-scale policy initiatives to reduce chronic disease risk.

Low levels of physical activity and high amounts of sedentary behaviour can impair important bodily functions such as cardiovascular function and glucose and lipid regulation. They are also are associated with increased risk for developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

To reduce this risk and inform recommendations, there is a need to better understand patterns of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in the community.

Several existing data sets will be used for a series of studies to identify and better understand physical activity and sedentary patterns:

  • AusDiab (the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study), with data collected at three time points (AusDiab1 1999–2000; AusDiab2 2004–05; and AusDiab3 2011–12).
  • NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey)— a population-representative surveillance study of US civilians.
  • PLACE (Physical Activity in Localities and Community Environments) — a study with two observation points four years apart that includes objective measures of environmental attributes derived from Geographic Information Systems data sets
  • IPEN (International Physical Activity and the Environment Network study) — a US National Cancer Institute funded study gathering accelerometer, survey and geographic information system data from 11 countries.

As an example of how the data will be used, the research team will examine AusDiab data for patterns and accumulation of time spent sitting, standing, stepping and in light-intensity and moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity with cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers.

Professor David Dunstan, the Head of the Baker-Deakin Department of Lifestyle and Diabetes at IPAN, said AusDiab 3 was the first large population-based study that has employed a device to measure sitting time (ActivPal inclinometer) together with other measures, such as an oral glucose tolerance test.

“Compared to accelerometer-derived data, ActivPal data provide a much more precise indicator of sitting time, as it is able to measure posture, which makes it an excellent tool to identify health consequences of too little physical activity and too much sitting,” Prof Dunstan said.

The research program has initially significant associations between physical activity and sedentary behaviour and ‘neighbourhood walkability’.

Ongoing studies will examine the influence of specific environmental attributes (including walking routes and local destinations).