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updated 10/6/2010 4:22:50 PM ET 2010-10-06T20:22:50

Sitting at your desk all day may be helping to add extra pounds around your waist, a new study suggests.

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"People eat better and exercise more today than they did in the 1970s, yet obesity rates continue to rise," study researcher Carl-Étienne Juneau, of the University of Montreal, said in a statement. This seeming contradiction might be explained by changes in work habits, he said.

The study found adults took in fewer calories in 2004 than they did in 1972, and leisure-time physical activity rose over a similar time period.

But people have become less active at work over the last three decades, and this decreased activity may partly explain the rise in obesity, according to the researchers from the University of Montreal.

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The promotion of physical activity has largely focused on leisure-time activities, the researchers wrote in their study, but the increase in leisure-time physical activity has not curbed the obesity epidemic. These findings may encourage people to turn their attention to other opportunities for physical activity, including their work time, they said.

To combat inactivity and a rise in obesity, an integration of sports, work and transportation is necessary, Juneau said. For example, it may be more effective to exercise in smaller doses throughout the day — like walking at break time and taking the stairs — rather than trying to find longer stretches of time to exercise.

Juneau also recommended group physical education courses for adults to provide motivation for being active.

The researchers looked at health information from hundreds of thousands of Canadians pulled from several databases. They found obesity increased 10 percent between 1978 and 2004, which could at least be partially attributed to lack of physical activity during office hours, according to the study.

The study is similar to other findings, including a 2005 article in the journal Science that found people who are obese sit, on average, for two hours more a day than non-obese people.

The study was published online today (Oct. 5) in the journal Preventive Medicine.

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