A new report comes to the conclusion that a sedentary office job (aka your typical 9 - 5) is worse for your health than smoking. Should we all really take this seriously? This report puts forward a few problems and concerns about how to read the report's conclusion.


Firstly, though, it is worth stating that the report's real aim is to promote a final "solution". The report concludes that an hour's brisk exercise everyday offsets the health risks of a sedentary office job. However, before looking at ways to "offset" the risks of office Work, we need to first ask: is the claim that sedentary office work is really worse for your health than smoking a sustainable claim?


There are few problems with the way the conclusion can be interpreted/reported.


1. This is quantitative data, not qualitative data

 In other words, the conclusion is about a generalised average. The report does not say that everyone will experience health problems as a result of sedentary office work. What it does say is that there is an increase in risk to health from sedentary office work. In other words, it does not say that any particular individual will experience health problems due to office work.

What it does say is that there is an increased risk. This is a problem with all quantitative data. An increased risk is not the same as inevitability. Smoking increases the risk of health problems; however, smoking does not inevitably cause health problems. There are people who smoke all their lives and live healthily to 90+; however, the chances of doing so are lessened by smoking. The same caveat needs to be applied to the finding about sedentary office work.


2. The study is not a randomized control study

What the study fails to do is compare office work with other types of work (or non-work). The question needs to ask, if these people were not spending 8-hours a day doing sedentary office work, what would they be doing? And how would this other activity/activities impact on peoples' health? What I am getting at, is that if someone was not doing sedentary office work, what would they be doing with those 8 hours, and would that be better or worse for the population's health?

For example, if someone was doing 8 hours sedentary office work they may be doing 8 hours active, physical work. Would this be better for their health? If this meant working down a coal mine for an 8 hour shifts, it is hard to see how that would be better for a person's health than an 8 hour shift in an office. Alternatively, if someone was not doing 8 hours sedentary office work, they may not be working at all.

However, it is not clear that the unemployed have better health than those who are doing sedentary office work. In order to conclude that sedentary office work creates health risks it needs to be compared to other types of activities that someone might be doing instead. There needs to be another study that follows 1 million office workers, 1 million coalminers, and 1 million unemployed people to come to a conclusion about which of those groups of people experience the greatest risk to their health.




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