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Australians’ lifestyles still too sedentary

Australians’ lifestyles still too sedentary
July 25, 2013

New Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) research shows that the average Australian adult spends more than four whole weeks every year sitting in front of the television while Australian youth are increasingly accessing TVs, computers and other screen-based media equipment in their bedrooms.

The ABS' Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011/12 shows that Australian adults spend on average four hours per day doing sedentary activities such as watching television compared with only half an hour of physical activity.

ABS researcher Dr Paul Jelfs, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said the 2011/12 data reveals a tendency for high levels of sedentary behaviour across the adult population.

Dr Jelfs explained "Australian adults spent an average of 13 hours a week watching TV. While males and females spent a similar number of hours sitting to watch TV, males spent around 45 minutes more per week using the computer - 5.5 compared to 4.8 hours - and 40 minutes more playing electronic games - one hour compared to 18 minutes.

"It all adds up, with men and women spending over two months of each year on sedentary leisure activities - 65 days for men and 61 days for women per year - including sitting for transport."

Dr Jelfs adds that at work "one in three workers spent at least three-quarters of their time at work sitting.

"Managers, professionals and clerical/administrative workers spent an average of 22 to 23 hours per week sitting compared to less than four hours for labourers. Working adults also averaged six hours per week sitting for transport.

"Some adults that sit more may try to compensate for this by exercising more.

"For example, working adults in households with incomes in the top 20% spent more time - 30.4 hours compared to 19.5 hours per week - sitting for work and transport but spent more time exercising - an average of 4.7 hours compared to 3.5 hours for other workers.

"This survey, using a pedometer, confirmed the sedentary nature of most people's days, with only one in five adults (19%) reaching the recommended 10,000 steps per day. By this measure, those aged 35 to 44 were the most active adults taking an average of 8,219 steps per day."

Among children and youth, the research shows an increasing number of children have TVs, computers and other media equipment in their bedrooms, and spend more time using them than those without access in their bedrooms

ABS Director of Health Surveys Juanita Pettit said the data linked to the high obesity rates across the nation, including sedentary behaviour and household rules regarding screen-based activities.

Pettit explained "in 2011-12, children aged five to 17 years spent on average nearly one and a half hours per day watching TV and close to half an hour a day using the internet for non-homework purposes. In addition, boys spent over half an hour playing electronic games, with girls a mere eight minutes.

"Despite what they may tell you, homework represented the smallest portion of screen usage at an average of only six minutes per day – only rising to 17 minutes for 15 to 17 year olds.

"Screen equipment in a child's bedroom was available to half (51%) of those aged five to 17 years. Children with these items spent on average two and a half hours per day on sedentary screen-based activity compared with just under two hours for those without screen equipment in their room.

"15 to 17 year olds were 'big' screen users, with three-quarters reporting having access to a TV, computer, video game console, and/or other screen-based equipment in their room. The trend also starts at a young age with close to one in six toddlers - two to four year olds - having access to media equipment in their bedrooms.

"Children with a screen item in their room also took, on average, 1,000 less steps per day."

Commenting on the research, former Olympian Rob De Castella told the Canberra Times that the poorer lifestyle findings for boys reflected what he had seen through his SmartStart for Kids anti-obesity program.

De Castella stated "we work for children aged between five and 13, and we're finding that a greater percentage of boys are overweight and obese, and are also having poor physical competencies."

Further details can be found in Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity (cat. no. 4364.0.55.004), available from the ABS at



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