June 9th 2016

The convenience that cars afford to commuters may actually weigh heavy on public health.

The convenience that cars afford to commuters may actually weigh heavy on public health.

Patients who sit in their cars for an hour or more each day may be more likely to gain extra weight than those who have shorter drives.

In an effort to better understand this relationship, a research team from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Health and Aging recently examined data on 2800 Australian adults, about 78% of whom used a car as their main form of transportation. Specifically, the researchers assessed the participants’ self-reported driving habits and compared them with health measures such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, fasting plasma glucose, and several cardiometabolic risk factors.

Based on the analysis, patients who drove for more than 1 hour each day had an average 0.8 greater BMI than those who spent only 15 minutes or less in a car; this was equivalent to an extra 2.3 kg (or 5.1 lbs) for a 1.7-m tall individual, as well as a 1.5 cm greater waster circumference.

The researchers also found that men were more likely to gain weight because of longer driving times than women. Additionally, spending longer periods of time in a car each day was linked to increased cardiometabolic risks.

Based on their findings, the study authors recommended that further endeavors be made to promote more physically active forms of travel.

“Transport sectors have been trying to promote active travel mainly to reduce congestion, air pollution, and the proliferation of automobile related infrastructure,” said lead author Takemi Sugiyama, PhD, in a press release. “Such efforts can be further supported by producing a compelling body of evidence on the adverse health impact of prolonged time spent in cars.”

Given that 86% of Americans use a car as their main form of transportation, the study authors suggested that their research could provide a more “comprehensive evidence base to underpin advocacy of active transport options.”

“Collaborative research between the health (including health economics), transport, and planning sectors has considerable potential to promote active travel further and to broaden the base for cardiometabolic disease prevention initiatives,” Dr. Sugiyama stated.

In the meantime, retail clinicians canhelp patientslose weight by offering a few simple recommendations, including changing dietary habits, joining weight-loss programs, committing to daily weigh-ins, considering weight-loss medications, and taking care of their mental health.

The study’s findings were published inPreventive Medicine.

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