Objective: A strong positive cross-sectional relationship between BMI and a sedentary lifestyle has been consistently observed in numerous studies. However, it has been questioned whether high BMI is a determinant or a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle.
Research Methods and Procedures: Using data from four follow-ups of the University of North Carolina Alumni Heart Study, we examined the prospective associations between BMI and sedentary lifestyle in a cohort of 4595 middle-aged men and women who had responded to questionnaires at the ages of 41 (standard deviation 2.3), 44 (2.3), 46 (2.0), and 54 (2.0).
Results: BMI was consistently related to increased risk of becoming sedentary in both men and women. The odds ratios of becoming sedentary as predicted by BMI were 1.04 (95% confidence limits, 1.00, 1.07) per 1 kg/m2 from ages 41 to 44, 1.10 (1.07, 1.14) from ages 44 to 46, and 1.12 (1.08, 1.17) from ages 46 to 54. Controlling for concurrent changes in BMI marginally attenuated the effects. Sedentary lifestyle did not predict changes in BMI, except when concurrent changes in physical activity were taken into account (p < 0.001). The findings were not confounded by preceding changes in BMI or physical activity, age, smoking habits, or sex.
Discussion: Our findings suggest that a high BMI is a determinant of a sedentary lifestyle but did not provide unambiguous evidence for an effect of sedentary lifestyle on weight gain.