An article recently published, in BMC Public Health, analysed the public response to media coverage of a health statement commissioned by Active Working.  The article looked to find out whether the recommendation that officer workers should aim to stand or do light activity (e.g. walk) for 2-4hrs a day, had been publicly well received or not.

When I commissioned the Expert Statement on the Sedentary Office in 2014, it was my express intention to begin international public discourse about the issues surrounding sedentary workplaces and the plight of office workers. For far too long I was hearing from key stakeholders of workplace health: “We need more evidence that too much sitting is bad for us”. My answer back then was that “the evidence is here, but because it is fragmented it can be quite confusing”. Importantly no-one would deny the hypothesis that too much sitting is instinctively bad.

I welcome the findings from Dr Benjamin Gardner, Dr Lee Smith and Dr Louise Mansfield – they illuminate interesting positive and negative conclusions which will help shape future discussion around this nascent area.  Most importantly, I am delighted that Dr Benjamin Gardner will be showcasing his research at the Active Working Summit.  But I believe there is more we could and should be doing to get the public fully behind the need of a more active working lifestyle.

The authors conclude that “public acceptability can be vital to the success of public health interventions” and I believe through campaigns such as Active Working’s ‘Get Britain Standing’ the public have accepted these findings in growing numbers. However we also need more commitment and clearer messaging from key stakeholders and public bodies especially the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), IOSH and MIND all of whom continue to sit on the sitting problem. Without consistent and clear messages we will continue to fertilize resistance and negative views that the research discovered. Specifically the research revealed three main responses from the public:

  • challenges to the credibility of the sedentary workplace guidance
  • challenges to the credibility of public health
  • the guidance as a spur to knowledge exchange

It is interesting that the whole notion of ‘public health’ is seen as “a group with clandestine motives that conflict with those of the ‘real’ public”.  I now call on all public health groups to do much more to change the perception and behaviour of the general public.  The research reported that there is significant “confusion, misunderstanding and misapprehension” about sitting for long periods. Over the last 3 years I have passionately dedicated myself and my Active Working organisation’s activities including the Get Britain Standing campaign, On Your Feet Britain and the Active Working Summit to providing clarity and removing misunderstanding at many levels from employers, employees and key stakeholders. With now over 1 million office workers signed up for On Your Feet on April 28th, we are making great strides forward. Our activities make clear the health benefits of a less sedentary lifestyle and working practises.  I genuinely believe that simple, amusing and personal messaging is much more effective than spreading doom and gloom which has a tendency to scare the public away from the simple and intuitive truth that too much sitting being bad for us. The research correctly recognises in its discussion “the importance of unambiguous communication of public health messages” and this is what the Expert Statement intended to do.

One finding which I find most concerning is that many of the commentators believe that the health concerns of the ‘Sitting Disease’ are not as important to employers as the perceived priority of maximising financial profit and minimising costs. The truth is that by reducing sitting and breaking up prolonged sedentary behaviour there is now growing evidence that wellness of employees increases productivity significantly. Evidence is varied and growing but we will be showcasing new research at the Active Working Summit on March 30th in St.Paul’s iconic One New Change.