Sedentary behavior and physical activity of young adult university students

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In research on daily activity, behaviors can be categorized in three areas: sleep, sedentary behavior (SB), and physical activity (PA) (see Figure 1). While there is abundant research on PA and sleep, the third area, SB, is a relatively new, yet rapidly expanding, area of health research with its own role in health. Each day it is possible to accumulate the recommended minimum amount of moderate‐to‐vigorous PA (MVPA) through daily exercise routines, yet still be highly sedentary, such as during long hours of school or work. According to the Sedentary Behavior Research Network (Tremblay et al., 2017), SB is defined as any non‐sleep behavior that uses minimal energy expenditure (≤1.5 metabolic equivalents [METs]) and is done in a seated, reclined, or lying posture, a definition that is supported in other literature (Jago, Fox, Page, Brockman, & Thompson, 2010; Olds, Maher, Ridley, & Kittel, 2010; Spittaels et al., 2012).
SB is increasing across the globe. For example, Chinese youth have recently more than doubled the amount of time spent in SB (Zhang, Seo, Kolbe, Middlestadt, & Zhao, 2012). The cost of SB is substantial. The worldwide cost of health care due to effects of SB was estimated at $150 billion in 2013 (Ding et al., 2016). SB also has costs of early morbidity and death (AHA, 2011) and decreased health‐related quality of life (Guallar‐Castillón et al., 2014). National and international organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (2001), American Heart Association (2011), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013), Institute of Medicine (2011), and World Health Organization (2010) recognize the deleterious effects of SB across the lifespan. In a number of studies in diverse populations, including young adults, researchers have identified the independent relationship of SB to acute and chronic problems, such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, colorectal cancer, and early mortality (Ekelund et al., 2016; Gibbs, Hergenroeder, Katzmarzyk, Lee, & Jakicic, 2015; Owen, Healy, Matthews, & Dunstan, 2010). The global rise in SB among youth and young adults is associated with increases in acute and chronic morbidities. Some have even speculated that the current generation may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents (AHA, 2011; Fontaine, Redden, Wang, Westfall, & Allison, 2003) and that reducing SB could increase life expectancy in the US by 2 years (Katzmarzyk & Lee, 2012).
Despite these associations, little is known about SB patterns in university students. This age group has the largest increase in SB and the greatest decrease in MVPA over the last few decades, compared to all other age cohorts (Nelson, Story, Larson, Neumark‐Sztainer, & Lytle, 2008). The purpose of this study was to objectively measure the levels of SB and PA in 18‐20‐year‐old university students and to pilot an open‐ended self‐report measure of the number and type of self‐reported extracurricular activities. These variables were analyzed to examine their relationship to body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC).
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