Leave the car at home for a healthier daily commute, say experts

August 19, 2014
traffic jam

Commuting to work by active (walking or cycling) and public modes of transport is linked to lower body weight and body fat composition compared with those using private transport, suggests a UK study published in BMJ today.

The researchers point out that the benefits were similar for both active (walking and cycling) and public transport, which may have important implications for transport and .

The health benefits of physical activity are well known, and studies suggests that active commuters are at lower risk of being overweight. However, self-reported measures of weight are prone to bias, especially in adults, and there is a lack of good evidence linking active commuting with objective measures of obesity.

So a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and UCL set out to investigate the relationship between active commuting and two known markers for obesity - body mass index (BMI) and percentage .

They analysed 7,534 BMI measurements and 7,424 percentage body fat measurements from men and women taking part in Understanding Society, the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study - a large, nationally representative dataset.

A total of 76% of men and 72% of women commuted to work by private motorised transport, 10% of men and 11% of women reporting using public transport, while 14% of men walked or cycled to work compared with 17% of women. Overall BMI score for men was 28 and 27 for women.

Generally, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 indicates optimal weight, a BMI lower than 18.5 suggests the person is underweight, a number above 25 may indicate the person is overweight, and a number above 30 suggests the person is obese.

Compared with using , commuting by public and active modes significantly and independently predicted lower BMI and healthier body composition, for both men and women.

Men who commuted via public or active modes had BMI scores around 1 point lower than those who used private transport, equating to a difference in weight of 3kg (almost half a stone) for the average man.

Women who commuted via public or active transport had BMI scores around 0.7 points lower than their private transport using counterparts, equating to a difference in weight of 2.5kg (5.5lb) for the average woman.

Results for percentage body fat were similar in size and significance. And the associations remained after adjusting for several potentially confounding factors, such as age, presence of a limiting illness or disability, monthly income, social class, level of physical activity in the workplace and diet.

The researchers say these differences are "larger than those seen in the majority of individually focused diet and interventions to prevent overweight and obesity."

They point out that although their study was large, no firm conclusions can be drawn about direct cause and effect. However, they say the use of and walking and cycling in the journey to and from work "should be considered as part of strategies to reduce the burden of obesity and related health conditions."

And they suggest that further research "is required in order to confirm the direction of causality in the association between active commuting and body weight".

In an accompanying editorial, researchers from Imperial College London say there is an increasing interest in persuading the public to drive less and to walk and cycle more to achieve health, , and environmental policy objectives. Unfortunately, they point out that has declined steadily in most high income countries since the mid-20th century as car ownership has grown.

They say, given the political sensitivity around policy measures that discourage use of cars, "it is crucial that the public health community, including healthcare professionals, provide strong and consistent messages to politicians and the public which frame these measures as positive public health actions."

Explore further: Walking or cycling to work linked to health benefits in India

More information: Paper: www.bmj/com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.g4887
Editorial: www.bmj/com/cgi/doi/10.1136/bmj.g5020

Related Stories

Walking or cycling to work linked to health benefits in India

June 11, 2013
People in India who walk or cycle to work are less likely to be overweight or obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure, a study has found.

Commuting - bad for your health?

October 31, 2011
A mobile workforce can help improve a country's economy but the effects of commuting on the health of commuters and on the costs to industry in terms of sick days is largely unknown. From a commuter's point of view, the advantages ...

Walking to work cuts risk of diabetes and high blood pressure

August 6, 2013
People who walk to work are around 40 per cent less likely to have diabetes as those who drive, according to a new study.

Obesity and cancer – adding more weight to the evidence

August 15, 2014
With the nation's ever-expanding waistlines, obesity is never far from the headlines, and you may have seen that today is no exception. A new study – published in the Lancet – has analysed the link between body mass index ...

Commuting to work by car linked to weight gain

January 23, 2013
Using active transport to commute to work can reduce the weight gain common to most adults. According to an Australian study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, urban residents who drive to work gain more weight ...

Insulin resistance ups T2D risk, independent of BMI

July 7, 2014
(HealthDay)—A genetic score for insulin resistance is associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and with incident type 2 diabetes (T2D) even among individuals of normal weight, according to a study published online June ...

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.