In our study, we also found more than one-third of articles incorrectly warned that too much sitting cancels out the benefits of exercise.
This is contrary to recent research showing high levels of moderate intensity physical activity (about 60–75 min a day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of early death associated with high levels of sitting time (eight hours a day or more).
This rigorous study, analysing data from one million adults, also found this high activity level reduces, but does not remove, the increased risk linked to high levels of TV-viewing.
Yet, this study does not appear among the research resources on the Get Australia Standing campaign website, which appears to promote the message that it doesn’t matter if you are physically active, if you sit a lot you are doing yourself harm.
How realistic are the recommendations anyway?
Regardless of the media reporting of the guidelines, we need to ask ourselves how realistic the guidelines are.
The recommendations may be premature and hard to put into practice given that studies involving motivated participants have only managed to reduce the time spent sitting by 77 minutes in an eight-hour work day.
Workers may use sit-stand desks and they may reduce sitting time but the evidence is not yet in to show this produces detectable health benefits, at least in the short term. And standing too long at work has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
The guidelines also contrast with recently updated Australian national physical activity guidelines.
These make general recommendations to sit less and break up periods of uninterrupted sitting because the experts conclude the evidence does not point to a specific amount of sitting time at which harm begins.
Given the evolving research field and the vested interests, we need to pay attention to sitting time, standing, and physical activity levels as well as the role of industry players and their contribution to advice on health.
Catriona Bonfiglioli is Senior Lecturer, Media Studies, at the University of Technology Sydney. Josephine Chau is Lecturer in Prevention and Research Fellow in Public Health at the University of Sydney.