Active Commuting, Public Transport Use Could Help Combat Obesity

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Leaving the car at home and walking, cycling or even taking the bus to work could improve your health, researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine claim in a new study.
In their British Medical Journal (BMJ) paper, Dr. Ellen Flint, a research fellow in social epidemiology at the London School, and her colleagues reported that people using active or public modes of transportation for their daily commute tended to have lower body weight and body fat composition than those who used private transportation to get to and from their place of employment.
Dr. Flint and her fellow researchers set out to examine the relationship between active commuting and two established markers for obesity: body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage. They reviewed 7,534 BMI measurements and 7,424 percentage body fat measurements from men and women taking part in Understanding Society, a nationally representative UK study that collected the health information of 20,000 participants.
Of those individuals, 76 percent of men and 72 percent of women commuted to work through private motorized transportation, while 10 percent of men and 11 percent of women said they used public transportation such as buses or trains and 14 percent of men and 17 percent of women walked or biked to work.
The overall BMI score for male participants was 28, and the BMI score for women was 27, the authors said. Typically, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 indicates optimal weight. A BMI lower than 18.5 suggests the person is underweight, a BMI of more than 25 could indicate that a person is overweight and a number over 30 suggests the individual is obese.
“Compared with using private transport, commuting by public and active modes significantly and independently predicted lower BMI and healthier body composition, for both men and women,” the London School explained in a statement Wednesday.
“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,” it added. “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.”
The findings for body fat percentage were similar in size and significance, and the researchers said the relationship remained even after they adjusted for potentially confounding factors such as age, disability, social class, monthly income, diet and workplace activity. They noted that the differences were larger than those observed in most individually-focused diet and exercise related interventions to encourage weight loss or prevent obesity.
Despite the size of the study, however, Dr. Flint and her colleagues said that they cannot declare a causal relationship between the use of private, non-active transportation and weight. However, while they report that additional research is required to confirm the cause-and-effect relationship, they do suggest considering the use of walking, cycling or public transport to travel to and from work as part of a broader health and anti-obesity strategy.
“Given that the majority of commuters in the UK use private transport as their main mode of travel, there are potentially large population-level health gains to be made by shifting to more active modes of commuting,” said Dr. Flint, who authored the study along with London School professor of population health Steven Cummins and UCL professor of lifecourse studies Amanda Sacker.
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