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  • Original Article
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Joint associations of physical activity and sedentary behaviors with body mass index: results from a time use survey of US adults



Obesity risk is negatively associated with physical activity and positively associated with time spent in sedentary behaviors. Yet, it is not known how different combinations of sedentary and active behavior are associated with body mass index (BMI). This study examined the interaction between time spent in physical activity and sedentary behavior on BMI in US adults.


Cross-sectional, data from the 2006 American Time Use Survey.


10 984 non-underweight adults (aged 21 + years).


A phone interview assessed all activities performed in the past 24 h, height, weight, health status, and other sociodemographic characteristics. Time spent in (1) moderate-to-vigorous leisure-time physical activity (MVPA), (2) active transportation (walking, biking), (3) sedentary leisure activities (TV/movie watching, computer use, playing games, reading), and (4) sedentary transportation (motorized vehicles) was determined from activity coding. BMI was calculated.


After adjusting for age, gender, education level, race/ethnicity, and health status, sample-weighted linear regressions found significant interactions for leisure MVPA × TV/movies, leisure MVPA × playing games, active transportation × sedentary transportation, and active transportation × reading (Ps<0.0001). For example, the group of adults watching <60 min per day of TV/movies and engaging in 60 min per day of leisure MVPA had lower average BMI compared to the group watching <60 min per day of TV/movies and reporting <60 min per day of leisure MVPA (P<0.0001). In contrast, for adults watching 189 min per day of TV/movies, there was not a significant difference in BMI by time spent in leisure MVPA.


Data from a US time use survey indicate that the strength of the association between certain types of sedentary behavior and BMI varies according to time spent in certain types of physical activity and vice versa.

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We thank Karen Hamrick, PhD of the Economic Research Service at the US Department of Agriculture and the ATUS staff at the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics for their assistance with this project. The first author was supported by the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, Office of the Director, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health during the preparation of this paper. She is now in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, or the National Cancer Institute.

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Correspondence to G F Dunton.

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Dunton, G., Berrigan, D., Ballard-Barbash, R. et al. Joint associations of physical activity and sedentary behaviors with body mass index: results from a time use survey of US adults. Int J Obes 33, 1427–1436 (2009).

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