What Your Commute Might Have To Do With Your Body Weight

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By Michelle Stopa

Over one-third of adults in the United Sates are obese, and many other nations struggle with obesity. One weight-loss strategy may come from something most people do every day — the daily commute.

Commuters have many available modes of transportation — like driving, walking and taking the subway — that can positively or negatively affect their fitness.

A recent study from the United Kingdom revealed that the majority of urban residents used their cars to get to work. However, the few who traveled more actively showed healthier body compositions.

The study was conducted by Ellen Flint, PhD, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues.

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Using the UK Household Longitudinal Study, the team observed survey results from 40,000 households. The survey asked participants how they usually got to work. Participants chose from a list of 10 modes that could be grouped into private, public or active transport.

Private transportation referred to cars, taxis or motorcycles. Public referred to buses, trains or subways. Active transport was either walking or biking.

Among the surveyed group, the team selected a smaller sample of 7,534 people who reported their body mass index (a weight-to-height ratio). The average body mass index (BMI) in the group was 28 for men and 27 for women, which are both considered overweight.

The researchers compared each person's mode of transportation to their BMI and body fat percentage.

The results showed that 76 percent of men and 72 percent of women commuted privately — mostly by car. About 10 percent of men and 11 percent of women commuted publicly, and 14 percent of men and 17 percent of women commuted actively. Of the group that commuted actively, BMIs and body fat percentages were significantly lower than private and public commuters.

Men who commuted actively had BMIs that were, on average, 0.97 points lower than those who commuted privately. For women, the BMI decrease for commuting actively was 0.87 points.

Taking public transportation to work was also associated with lower BMIs — 1.10 points lower for men and 0.72 points for women, compared to those who commuted privately. Researchers said this was likely because of added walking to and from UK transit stations.

To compare, a report by the US Census Bureau revealed that, from 2008 to 2012, only 2.8 percent of workers commuted via walking. Additionally, 0.6 percent of workers commuted using bicycles. Five percent used public transportation.

The team considered the limitations of actively commuting when living in a rural area. In this study, however, the majority of the participants lived in an urban setting where active and public transportation was possible.

The study was published Aug. 19 in The BMJ.

The authors did not disclose any funding sources or conflicts of interest.

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