Cycle or walk to work to reduce weight

New study finds link between lower body weight and active mode of transportation

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Thursday 21 August 2014

Commuting to work via public transportation rather than private vehicle can cut down chances of being overweight

People who walk, bike or commute via public transport to work tend to be thinner than those who travel in private cars, says new research. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, suggest that switching one’s mode of commute could cut down chances of being overweight and help in achieving a healthy body.

Lead researcher Ellen Flint and her colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London point out there has been a decrease in physical activity along with the proportion of people taking active modes of transportation to work. According to a Reuters report, active travel or commuting typically refers to walking or biking to work, but Flint suggests that the scope of the term should be expanded to include taking public transportation, such as buses and trains.

Public transport and lower body weight

While there is evidence to support the link between walking and biking to work and reduced weight, there is little research that takes into account public transportation. For the new study, the researchers used data collected from a national sample of people living in the UK who answered survey questions and were visited by a nurse. Seventy-six per cent of men and 72 per cent of women reported taking a private mode of transportation—usually a car—to work. Only 10 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women reported using mostly public transportation to work.

The researchers found that people who walked, biked or took public transportation to work had lower average body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentages than people who used private transportation, the report says. Men who actively commuted to work or took public transportation had a BMI score between 0.9 and 1.1 points lower than men who drove themselves. Similarly for women, BMI scores were between 0.7 and 0.9 points lower among active and public commuters compared to women who drove.

According to Amy Auchincloss of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the study’s results are strong because its data takes into account people living in many different areas. However, she says, the findings cannot accurately prove that an active mode of transportation causes people to lose weight. “At minimum, it appears from these preliminary data that not driving or not using automobiles will at least aide people to maintain a healthy weight,” Auchincloss, who was not involved with the new study, told Reuters in an email interview.

Reduced weight is not the only benefit of following an active mode of transportation to work. “There are other studies that show people who do not drive to work are less likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes,” says Anthony Laverty of Imperial College London.

Flint believes that getting more people to walk, bike or take public transportation to work will be worthwhile to counter obesity. “In Britain, the vast majority of commuters use cars. There is a huge potential for an intervention of access to public transportation for health benefits,” she told Reuters.

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