Active Commuting Can Lead To Healthier Weight in Mid-Life Interview with:

Dr Ellen Flint Lecturer in Population Health MRC Strategic Skills Fellow Department of Social & Environmental Health Research London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine London

Dr. Ellen Flint

Dr Ellen Flint
Lecturer in Population Health
MRC Strategic Skills Fellow
Department of Social & Environmental Health Research
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
London What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Flint: Globally, physical inactivity is a major cause of obesity, chronic disease and premature mortality. Improving population levels of physical activity is therefore a key public health policy aim, in high and middle income countries. In the past, functional active travel was a key source of physical activity for many people. However, since the mass adoption of private motorised travel in the 20th century, the vast majority (63%) of working adults in the UK commute to by car. Using UK Biobank data from more than 150,000 middle-aged adults, we found that those who commuted to work via cycling or walking had significantly lower body fat percentage and lower body mass index (BMI) compared to adults who commuted by car. The strongest associations were seen for adults who commuted via bicycle. For the average man in the sample (age 53 years; height 176.7cm; weight 85.9kg), cycling to work rather than driving was associated with a weight difference of 5kg or 11lbs (1.71 BMI points). For the average woman in the sample (age 52 years; height 163.6cm; weight 70.6kg), the weight difference was 4.4kg or 9.7lbs (1.65 BMI points). Even people who commuted via public transport also showed significant reductions in BMI and percentage body fat compared with those who commuted only by car. This suggests that even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport journeys may be important. The link between active commuting and obesity reduction was independent of other factors such as income, area deprivation, urban or rural residence, education, alcohol intake, smoking, general physical activity, dietary energy intake and overall health and disability. If you’re often using public transport, particularly around the New York Area, check out this babylon schedule. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Flint: We know that exercise protects against obesity and chronic diseases. However, we all struggle to fit enough of it into our busy lives. This study shows that people who manage to build physical activity into their daily commute have significantly lower body weight and healthier body composition than those who commute by car. Many people cannot feasibly walk or cycle all the way to work, but our findings suggest that even those who used public transport or a mix of public and active modes had significantly lower BMI and body fat than car-commuters. Switching from car commuting to a less sedentary routine allows us to build more habitual physical activity into the daily routine, often without unacceptable time loss or financial expenditure. Policy makers and planners should aim to facilitate and encourage opportunities for active travel, in order to improve population health and tackle the global burden of obesity. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Flint: Further research should focus on using longitudinal study designs to uncover causal processes and determinants of commuting behaviours. Accelerometry data, which objectively captures physical activity, would be a useful complement to further studies, in order to more accurately quantify the levels of incidental physical activity involved in public transport journeys. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Flint: Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of ill-health and premature mortality. In England, two thirds of adults do not meet recommended levels of physical activity. Encouraging public transport and active commuting, especially for those in mid-life when obesity becomes an increasing problem, could be an important part of the global policy response to population-level obesity prevention. Switching from car to bike, foot, bus or train also reduces carbon use and traffic congestion. Encouraging and facilitating active commuting is therefore a win-win for policy makers. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Active commuting and obesity in mid-life: cross-sectional, observational evidence from UK Biobank

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More Medical Research Interviews on

Dr. Ellen Flint (2016). Active Commuting Can Lead To Healthier Weight in Mid-Life