University of California, San Diego

With a campus just over an hour north of the Mexican border in a city with a significant Mexican American and Latino population — University of California researchers chose to study sedentary behavior among women of Mexican descent.

Researchers focused on 400 participants with the help of South Bay Latino Research Center and existing community partners. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for these conditions. Sitting for long periods of time, day after day, typically increases weight and the chance of developing obesity. It also increases the probability of developing high blood pressure or diabetes, significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Key to the project was the question of just how much of a difference a behavioral intervention could make in reducing sitting time. For example, participants were regularly contacted by phone to encourage movement and even provided with standing desks. Also, factors such as weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood components were tracked.

Director Research Overview

Matthew Allison, MD, MPH, Center director for the University of California, San Diego
Matthew Allison, MD, MPH
“Sedentary behavior, it’s not a new topic, per se, but it’s a relatively new area of research that’s unexplored, especially among women of Mexican descent and other Hispanic/Latino backgrounds,” said Center Director Matthew Allison, M.D., M.P.H.

“It’s important, because prior studies showed, in other populations, that being sedentary is associated with worse outcomes. That is, those who are more sedentary have heart disease and die earlier,” he said. “So, we proposed to study sedentary behavior in women of Mexican descent because this problem has been relatively understudied in this ethnic group and results from other studies have shown that they were more sedentary than their counterparts in the United States.” 

“In general, individuals of Hispanic/Latino descent have higher rates of obesity and higher rates of diabetes, but their blood pressure, by and large, is similar to non-Hispanic Whites,” Allison said. “Diabetes is definitely a big problem for this group, and they have problems with their lipid profile; both of which can predispose to heart disease.” 

“When it came to sitting time”, Allison said, “our goal was to reduce it by 20%, but we went past that.” The University of California, San Diego researchers, he said, “were all really pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of the change” in women’s lifestyle choices and sedentary patterns.

Monitoring of sitting time utilized a device called the activPal. Allison said there had also been decreases noted in these biomarkers but data was still being evaluated before publication.

Decreases in those factors, he said, albeit preliminarily and over a relatively short period of time, “were not nearly as large as the sitting behavior.”

He said he hoped the study would help patients and health practitioners learn that people can improve their health, quality of life and longevity by not sitting as much.

“We hope to be able to translate these findings into something that can be used by clinicians for counseling their patients,” he said. “It’s really just standing up; there’s not a lot of thought process to it ... If you do that, that can lead to positive changes in your life and, I think, those things combined constitute a really simple intervention, which has potential.”

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