Obesity Can Be Helped By Lowering Drive Time
December 19, 2012

Cutting Car Travel Parallels Cutting Calories

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

With January coming up, it may be the perfect time to turn over a new leaf with lifestyle resolutions. One of the most popular goals is to lose weight and a new study shows that cutting the commute time in a car could have the same impact as reducing the number of calories consumed.

“We´re saying that making small changes in travel or diet choices may lead to comparable obesity reduction, which implies that travel-based interventions may be as effective as dietary interventions,” explained one of the co-authors of the study Banafsheh Behzad, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, in a prepared statement.

Past studies have examined the effect of consuming calories and expending energy, looking at the two issues independently or at the local level rather than the impact on a national level. In this experiment, driving was considered a proxy for physical activity. In particular, the team of investigators from the University of Illinois looked at how car travel and calorie consumption could be associated with body weight; by lowering the amount of either one, it resulted in a parallel reduction of body mass index (BMI).

“An easy way to be more physically active is to spend less time in an automobile. Any time a person sits behind the wheel of a car, it´s one of the most docile activities they can do in a day,” noted Sheldon Jacobson, a professor of computer science and mathematics at the University of Illinois, in the statement. “The automobile is the quickest mode of transportation we have. But a consequence of this need for speed in getting things done may be the obesity epidemic.”

For the study, the scientists included data on national average BMI, caloric intake, and driving habits. With this information, they created a multivariable model that displayed how calories were consumed and how the number of miles driven could be related to BMI. The model showed that, for people who drove one less mile per day, there was a decrease in the national average BMI by 0.21 kg/m2 following six years. On the other hand, reducing the number of calories by 100 each day would result in the lowering of the national average BMI by 0.16 kg/m2 following three years.

“One mile is really not much,” continued Behzad in the statement. “If they would just consider even taking the bus, walking the distance to the bus stop could have an impact like eating 100 calories less per day. The main thing is paying attention to caloric intake and moving more, together, can help reduce BMI.”

Based on the findings, the researchers state that even a small decrease in BMI could possibly help reduce health costs. Not only would annual health costs decrease, but fuel consumption would be reduced as well with the decrease in driving. Overall, driving one mile less per day could help people who were considered obese or overweight.

“The most important thing for people to learn from this study is that they have a choice,” concluded Jacobson in the statement. “One has to be just as careful about when you choose to drive as when you choose to eat. These small changes in our driving and dietary habits can lead to long-term significant changes in obesity issues. Those are the kind of changes we advocate.”

The study´s findings were recently featured in the journal Preventive Medicine.