Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Relationship of obesity to physical activity, domestic activities, and sedentary behaviours: cross-sectional findings from a national cohort of over 70,000 Thai adults

Emily Banks1*, Lynette Lim1, Sam-Ang Seubsman2, Chris Bain3 and Adrian Sleigh1

Author Affiliations

1 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

2 Thai Health-Risk Transition Project, School of Human Ecology, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Nonthaburi, Thailand

3 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2011, 11:762  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-762

Published: 4 October 2011



Patterns of physical activity (PA), domestic activity and sedentary behaviours are changing rapidly in Asia. Little is known about their relationship with obesity in this context. This study investigates in detail the relationship between obesity, physical activity, domestic activity and sedentary behaviours in a Thai population.


74,981 adult students aged 20-50 from all regions of Thailand attending the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University in 2005-2006 completed a self-administered questionnaire, including providing appropriate self-reported data on height, weight and PA. We conducted cross-sectional analyses of the relationship between obesity, defined according to Asian criteria (Body Mass Index (BMI) ≥25), and measures of physical activity and sedentary behaviours (exercise-related PA; leisure-related computer use and television watching ("screen-time"); housework and gardening; and sitting-time) adjusted for age, sex, income and education and compared according to a range of personal characteristics.


Overall, 15.6% of participants were obese, with a substantially greater prevalence in men (22.4%) than women (9.9%). Inverse associations between being obese and total weekly sessions of exercise-related PA were observed in men, with a significantly weaker association seen in women (p(interaction) < 0.0001). Increasing obesity with increasing screen-time was seen in all population groups examined; there was an overall 18% (15-21%) increase in obesity with every two hours of additional daily screen-time. There were 33% (26-39%) and 33% (21-43%) reductions in the adjusted risk of being obese in men and women, respectively, reporting housework/gardening daily versus seldom or never. Exercise-related PA, screen-time and housework/gardening each had independent associations with obesity.


Domestic activities and sedentary behaviours are important in relation to obesity in Thailand, independent of exercise-related physical activity. In this setting, programs to prevent and treat obesity through increasing general physical activity need to consider overall energy expenditure and address a wide range of low-intensity high-volume activities in order to be effective.

Obesity; Thailand; physical activity; inactivity; domestic activity; sedentary behaviours