Study: Transit Commuters Have Less Body Fat Than Those Who Drive to Work

Those who commute by car are piling on the pounds faster than people who ride bikes — and take transit — to work, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: ##http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:London.underground.arp.750pix.jpg##Wikimedia##
Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: ##http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:London.underground.arp.750pix.jpg##Wikimedia##

The study looked at health and commuting data over time for about 7,500 people in the United Kingdom. When controlling for factors like income, level of activity at work, and age, researchers found that commuting by foot, bike, or public transit was “significantly associated” with lower obesity metrics.

This finding might not be all that surprising, but researchers say scientific evidence that active commuting helps maintain a healthy body weight has been scant. The study also found that transit riders had slightly better numbers than those who walked or rode bikes to work.

After adjusting for other factors, researchers found that men who used public transportation to get to work had about 1.5 percentage points less body fat than men who drove. For men who commuted by foot or bike, the advantage was 1.35 percent. For women, transit riders had about 2 percent lower body fat, and bike commuters had 1.4 percent less.

The results were similar for another important measure of obesity: body mass index. For men, active commuting and transit use were associated with a lower body mass index of about 1 point — that translates to 10 pounds for a man who is 5′ 10″ tall or a woman who is 5′ 5″. In women, active or transit commuting translated to about .75 points lower BMI.

“There are potentially large population-level health gains to be made by shifting to more active modes of travel,” researchers said.

  • Melissa

    Since I got a Jawbone Up (like a Fitbit), it’s been interesting to quantify this for myself. I don’t have a car and I walk or take transit everywhere. I’d say my commute is mixed- transit/walk most days, though if I have time and it’s very nice I’ll walk the whole way. Transit adds some nice metabolic boosts in the stairs present in many subway stops and also running to catch a bus 🙂

    My average for steps (11,000) is double the US average from studies (which is pretty inflated IMHO) and mileage is close to recorded data for hunter-gatherers. I definitely am in better shape than I was as a car-dependent teenager in the burbs.

  • R.A. Stewart

    So true. I am, sadly, one of those with little time and less self-discipline for exercise, but I kept my weight down and stayed at a decent baseline of fitness for over 20 years when my “fitness program” was mainly my transit-and-walking commute. Now that I’m driving to work every day (transit isn’t an option anywhere near my workplace) … well, let’s just say things are different, and not in a good way.

  • Social_werkk

    I recently told an aunt that since moving to a neighborhood with LOTS of transit access and giving up my car, my gym is the city. I walk more, take more stairs, etc. I love it!

  • tooter turtle

    I think the trip to work is not the whole story here. Someone who walks or bikes at least part of the way to work does so because they have learned that it’s not difficult. Probably, they do many errands under their own power, too, because it’s faster or easier or more pleasant than driving. Meanwhile, those acclimated to driving everywhere do all their little errands in the car…and get fat.

  • Jack Jackson

    would be good to know the other factors it adjusted for. age. children. income. transit proximity to job

  • Paul C

    In my adulthood, I have had long periods of both transit commuting and car commuting, and I typically weigh 10 pounds less when I use transit.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Leaving my 35-mile car commute behind and moving to where I can take the subway or bike was one of the best quality of life decisions I have ever made.

  • Melissa

    “When controlling for factors like income, level of activity at work, and age”

  • Hmckay

    That was literally the second paragraph of the article. Next time you think an article missed an important point, maybe read it first?

  • User_1

    Sad it takes so long for people to reach this rather obvious conclusion. I reached this conclusion in the 90s when I traveled around Europe.

    >body fat = healthier

  • Bolwerk

    This means transit saves money on at least two fronts: (1) it’s cheaper to subsidize transit than car trips and (2) it most likely can cut healthcare costs, public and private.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    One effect this study leaves out is reverse causation. It could well be that some people have higher BMI because they have various mobility impairments that also happen to make biking, walking, and transit use difficult for them. We definitely can’t establish causation with this study.

    Furthermore, weight and body mass just aren’t the right indicators to focus on – fitness is. It’s clear that including some walking in one’s daily transportation is generally helpful for most people, regardless of whether or not they lose or gain weight.

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