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'A nation of couch potatoes?' Physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health in Ireland


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Researchers Involved:

Prof. Alan Donnelly

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Dr. Ciaran Mac Donncha

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Summary of the Impact:

Researchers at the University of Limerick are working to address the epidemic of sedentary behaviour in Ireland. Effective national level health guidelines and policy must be based on accurate information about how physical activity and sedentary behaviour contribute to health. Professor Alan Donnelly explains: “Low levels of physical activity are attributed to 6-10% of coronary heart disease, type 2  diabetes, breast and colon cancer and over 20% risk of Alzheimer’s disease in Europe.”

Health and wellbeing are human rights which are put at risk by sedentary behaviours and lack of physical activity.

In their research, the UL team applied technology to accurately measure levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. They have related these finds to health indices and behavioural determinants. Their research highlighted alarmingly high levels of sedentary behaviour among female teenagers in Ireland with 79% of their total day or 19 hours spent lying or siting down. Ciaran Mac Donncha added: “Our research has had a significant impact on national policy. National physical activity guidelines, a dedicated dissemination platform for these guidelines, and a national physical activity plan comprise a sea change for promotion of physical activity in Ireland. UL has made a significant contribution to these achievements”.

Health and wellbeing are human rights which are put at risk by sedentary behaviours and lack of physical activity. UL’s research is helping Ireland and Europe identify the most effective strategies for combatting these ever-increasing threats to health, and to promote health for citizens of all ages. Professor Alan Donnelly, Dr Ciaran Mac Donncha, Dr Kieran Dowd and Dr Fiona Ling are researchers at the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, University of Limerick. This research has been supported by the Health Research Board, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Health Service Executive.


Sustainable Development Goals

  • 03 Good Health and Wellbeing

References to the research

Validation of MET estimates and step measurement using the ActivPAL physical activity logger

https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2010.549499

Authors: Harrington, D. M., Welk, G. J. and Donnelly, A. E.


Criterion and Concurrent Validity of the activPAL™ Professional Physical Activity Monitor in Adolescent Females

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047633

Authors: Dowd, K. P., Harrington, D. M. and Donnelly, A. E.


Cross-sectional analysis of levels and patterns of objectively measured sedentary time in adolescent females

https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-8-120

Authors: Harrington, D. M., Dowd, K. P., Bourke, A. K. and Donnelly, A. E.


Light-intensity physical activity is associated with adiposity in adolescent females

https://www.doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000357

Authors: Dowd, K. P., Harrington, D. M., Hannigan, A. and Donnelly, A. E.


Year in school and physical activity stage of change as discriminators of variation in the physical activity correlate profile of adolescent females

https://www.doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2011-0353

Authors: Burns, C., Murphy, J. J. and Mac Donncha, C.


Results From Ireland’s 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity in Children and Youth

https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2014-0166

Authors: Harrington, D. M., Belton, S., Coppinger, T., Cullen, M., Donnelly, A., Dowd, K., Keating, T., Layte, R., Murphy, M. and Murphy, N.