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May 14, 2018
Researchers offer strategy on sedentary work and illness

As technology advances, the number of people performing sedentary work as well as the amount of sedentary work performed per person increases. Too much sedentary work can have serious adverse health effects, including obesity, musculoskeletal pain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, particularly if it is combined with sedentary leisure. This is not new information, but despite general recognition of a correlation between sedentary work and ill health, generally recognized methods for measuring sedentary work among employees are still lacking.

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This topic was tackled by 22 occupational health professionals from 11 European countries working under the auspices of the Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health (PEROSH). The resulting paper, “A Practical Guidance for Assessments of Sedentary Behavior at Work: A PEROSH Initiative” (Elsevier; Applied Ergonomics; 63 [2017]) won Elsevier’s 2017 best Applied Ergonomics paper award.

The authors believe that key data needed to advance the science of sedentary work can be obtained by the use of ambulatory systems in ?eld applications, also called wearables.

Current limitations

Most current information about sedentary work has been obtained directly from employees, say the researchers—that is, self-reported data. These data are often inaccurate since the information gathered is influenced by many different conditions. Also, one researcher points out that it is not known precisely when sedentary work becomes harmful; most likely this is because researchers use very different measurement methods. To overcome health problems, it is necessary to establish common guidelines for measuring sedentary work for practitioners and researchers to obtain precise information that makes it possible to compare data across industries and countries and follow developments over time for optimizing preventive measures.

Accelerometers and heart monitors

The authors note that a wide variety of wearables are already commercially available, including accelerometers, which measure human movement, and heart-rate monitors, which can be used to estimate energy expenditure.

“The ongoing development of these technologies has led to miniaturization and greatly diminished costs, increasing the feasibility of assessing sedentary behaviour objectively on larger populations in real-life settings, with minimal disturbance for the participants,” state the authors. “However, despite the greatly increasing accessibility to commercialize available wearables for assessing sedentary behaviour, accompanied by an increase use of wearables among researchers and practitioners, no practical guidance is available on how to properly assess sedentary work using wearables.”

Strategy elements

Accordingly, the paper provides “decision support” for researchers and practitioners for assessing occupational sedentary behavior through selection of wearables and a proper data collection strategy.

“The decision support emphasizes factors like the need for accuracy, study population, data accessibility, wearing comfort, expert knowledge for analyses, assessment duration, number of participants needed, budget available, and need for information on time patterns of sedentary and non-sedentary behaviour, including moderate and vigorous physical activity,” state the authors. “The need for assessing body posture, energy expenditure, or both, should be appraised based on the work tasks, target population, and purpose of the study.

Information about the paper is available here.

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