Many would agree that walking or cycling to work could be an effective component of a weight control program; however, the distance to the workplace, weather, and other factors often preclude that practice. A new study has found that taking public transportation to work, rather than walking can also effective keep one’s body mass index (BMI) in the normal range. The findings were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Public Health by researchers in the United Kingdom.
The study authors note that public health guidelines encourage adults to partake in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day to help prevent obesity and several other chronic conditions. Opportunities to increase time spent being active at home or during leisure or work time are often limited; however, incorporating walking or cycling into the commute to and from work may represent a relatively low cost, more feasible option for many individuals. They explain that a number of studies have reported that these activities are an effective method for keeping one’s BMI in the normal range. However, to the best of their knowledge, no studies have examined the individual-level impact on BMI of switching between modes of travel. Therefore, they accessed data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) to estimate the effects on BMI of switching between private motor vehicle transport and active travel or public transport (which typically involves some walking or cycling to or from stations or stops) for commuting to work.
The study group comprised 4056 individuals who reported their usual main mode of travel to work. Self-reported height and weight were used to determine BMIs at baseline and after two years. The data was subjected to statistical analyses to determine associations between switching to and from active modes of travel (over 1 and 2 years) and change in BMI (over 2 years) and to assess dose–response relationships (length of time engaged in commuting).
The investigators found that after adjustment for socioeconomic and health-related factors, the first analysis (3269 subjects) showed that switching from private motor vehicle transport to active travel or public transport (179) was associated with a significant reduction in BMI compared to continued private motor vehicle use. A greater positive effect on BMI was found for individuals who switched to active travel (walking or cycling; 109 subjects), particularly among those who switched within the first year and those with the longest journeys. The second analysis (787 subjects) showed that switching from active travel or public transport to private motor vehicle transport was associated with a significant increase in BMI).
The authors concluded that interventions to enable commuters to switch from private motor vehicle transport to more active modes of travel could contribute to reducing BMI.
The researchers are affiliated with Health Economics Group and UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK; MRC Epidemiology Unit and UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; and Centre for Health Economics, University of York, York, UK.