August 2015

Prolonged sitting may be just as dangerous to the health of our nation as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s.

It is now believed that sitting for long periods of time is linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even early death, and could be just as big a threat to public health, if not more so, than smoking.

The Queen’s researchers are part of a European consortium which has received a €4.5 million European Commission grant to help develop innovative ways to tackle sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in older people.

Working with researchers in Spain, Denmark, Germany, France and Scotland, the four-year study will see the Queen’s team develop new ways of helping adults over 65 years of age to sit less and become more active, before testing them on 1,300 people in four European countries.

Dr Mark Tully, from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s University, is leading the project in Northern Ireland.

“Levels of sedentary behaviour increase as we age, which poses a significant threat to the health of our population, especially as Northern Ireland is set to face the largest increase in the number of older adults, than other UK countries.

“One of the biggest threats to health is the amount of time spent sitting. On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80 per cent of their waking day, sitting down.

“Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop effective interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with sitting regarded as ‘the new smoking’,” he said.

One Canadian study has revealed that adults who spent most of their time sitting were 50 per cent more likely to die during the follow-up than those that sit the least.

And Queen’s researchers have already shown that mothers who sit more during pregnancy are likely to have heavier babies, while men who spend more time sitting at work have poorer kidney function.

Dr Tully continued: “During this study we hope to be able to identify effective methods to help our ageing society make positive lifestyle changes in order to improve their health and wellbeing. This programme will then be available for delivery through the health system in each of the member countries,” he added.

Some suggestions that could be used to help people be more active at work are treadmill and height adjustable desks, which allow users to alternate between standing and sitting. Indeed, Dr Mark Tully himself regularly uses his treadmill desk during his working day.

For further information please contact Claire O’Callaghan, Senior Communications Officer, Queen’s University Belfast on or 028 9097 5391.

Top of Page

The Care in the Sun research team at CoENI, together with Cancer Focus NI and the Public Health Agency are running a feasibility study funded by the MRC (Medical Research Council) on whether Twitter is effective for disseminating public health messages (to paraphrase).  In this case we are disseminating the “Care in the Sun” core messages.

As part of this, throughout August and September we are running a #KnowYourSkinNI campaign:

Twitter Account:


If you have a Twitter / Facebook account - please follow us and support as much as possible via Retweets/Shares/Likes etc.

On September 1st we are holding a “Thunderclap” (essentially a social media flash mob) to promote the campaign.  We would be extremely grateful if you would pledge your support for the campaign via this link:

You can support with Facebook &/ Twitter.  Through doing so, our message can be posted on your behalf with the aim of creating a trending topic on Social Media.

Many thanks in advance. 

If you have any questions about the campaign or thunderclap, please don’t hesitate to get in touch:

Top of Page

Working long hours linked to higher risk of stroke

Working 55 hours or more per week is linked to a 33% greater risk of stroke and a more modest (13%) increased risk of developing coronary heart disease compared with working a standard 35 to 40 hour week, according to the largest study in this field so far involving over 600000 individuals, published in The Lancet.

Mika Kivimäki, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, UK, and colleagues did a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual-level data examining the effects of longer working hours on cardiovascular disease up to August 20, 2014.

Analysis of data from 25 studies involving 603838 men and women from Europe, the USA, and Australia who were followed for an average of 8.5 years, found a 13% increased risk of incident coronary heart disease (a new diagnosis, hospitalisation, or death) in people working 55 hours or more per week compared with those putting in a normal 35 to 40 hour week, even after taking into account risk factors including age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

Analysis of data from 17 studies involving 528908 men and women who were followed up for an average of 7.2 years, found a 1.3 times higher risk of stroke in individuals working 55 hours or more a week compared with those working standard hours. This association remained even after taking into account health behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity, and standard cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Importantly, the researchers found that the longer people worked, the higher their chances of a stroke. For example, compared with people who worked standard hours, those working between 41 and 48 hours had a 10% higher risk of stroke, and those working 49 to 54 hours had a 27% increased risk of stroke (figure 4).

Although the causal mechanisms of these relationships need to be better understood, the authors suggest that increasing health-risk behaviors, such as physical inactivity and high alcohol consumption, as well as repetitive triggering of the stress response, might increase the risk of stroke.

According to Professor Kivimäki, “The pooling of all available studies on this topic allowed us to investigate the association between working hours and cardiovascular disease risk with greater precision than has previously been possible. Health professionals should be aware that working long hours is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, and perhaps also coronary heart disease.” [1]

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Urban Janlert from Umeå University in Sweden points out, “Long working hours is not a negligible phenomenon. Among OECD countries Turkey has the highest proportion of those working more than 50 hours per week (43%) and the Netherlands the lowest (0·6%). A mean for all OECD-countries shows that 12% of the employed men and 5% of the employed women work more than 50 hours per week. Although legislation exists in some countries on working hours, for example the EU Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) that already gives people the right to limit their average working time to 48 hours per week, it is not always implemented.”


This study was funded by Medical Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, European Union New and Emerging Risks in Occupational Safety and Health research programme, Finnish Work Environment Fund, Swedish Research Council for Working Life and Social Research, German Social Accident Insurance, Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Academy of Finland, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (Netherlands), US National Institutes of Health, British Heart Foundation.

[1] Quote direct from author and cannot be found in text of Article.

For interviews with Article author Professor Mika Kivimäki, University College London, London, UK, please email the author directly at OR contact Harry Dayantis, Communications Office, University College London T)+ 44 (0) 20 3108 3844 E)

For interviews with Comment author Dr Urban Janlert, Division of Epidemiology and Global Health, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden please contact him directly on T) +46 70 30 666 48 E)

Link to Article:

(Dr Dermot O'Reilly - contributing author from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland -


Top of Page


Commentary on Routine weighing of women during pregnancy—is it time to change current practice?

Allen-Walker V, Woodside J, Holmes V, Young I, Cupples ME, Hunter A, McKinley MC.
BJOG 2015
DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13511

Currently, over half of women begin their pregnancy either overweight or obese, which is linked to serious consequences for themselves and their babies.  Additionally, it has been found that even if women who are of a normal weight have a BMI increase of 1-2 points in between pregnancies, there are increased risks of adverse outcomes in later pregnancies.  Alongside weight status before and after pregnancy, gaining too much weight during pregnancy is also associated with adverse consequences.  Therefore it is important to determine appropriate ranges for weight gain in pregnancy, to improve outcomes for mothers and their babies. However, women in the UK are not weighed throughout their pregnancy anymore, which means there is no data on patterns of, and total pregnancy weight gain in women in the UK.  The Institute of Medicine in America have guidelines on gestational weight gain based on women’s pre-pregnancy BMI, however NICE have not supported use of these guidelines due to a lack of data which suggest they are appropriate for women in the UK.

This commentary reviews evidence on the history of routine weighing in the UK, and weighs up the evidence for re-introducing the practice.  We make the argument that in order to collect the data necessary to inform pregnancy weight gain guidelines, routine weighing needs to be brought back into standard antenatal care.

This commentary would be of interest to health professionals working in maternal care, researchers working in the area of weight management and pregnancy, and those involved in policy making in the area of weight management and pregnancy, in order to stimulate discussion and debate on the subject of routine weighing in antenatal care.

 If you would like further information on this research – please contact:

Top of Page