Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom

Ellen Flint, Steven Cummins, Amanda Sacker
BMJ: British Medical Journal 2014 August 19, 349: g4887

OBJECTIVE: To determine if promotion of active modes of travel is an effective strategy for obesity prevention by assessing whether active commuting (walking or cycling for all or part of the journey to work) is independently associated with objectively assessed biological markers of obesity.

DESIGN: Cross sectional study of data from the wave 2 Health Assessment subsample of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). The exposure of interest, commuting mode, was self reported and categorised as three categories: private transport, public transport, and active transport.

PARTICIPANTS: The analytic samples (7534 for body mass index (BMI) analysis, 7424 for percentage body fat analysis) were drawn from the representative subsample of wave 2 respondents of UKHLS who provided health assessment data (n = 15,777).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)(2)); percentage body fat (measured by electrical impedance).

RESULTS: Results from multivariate linear regression analyses suggest that, compared with using private transport, commuting by public or active transport modes was significantly and independently predictive of lower BMI for both men and women. In fully adjusted models, men who commuted via public or active modes had BMI scores 1.10 (95% CI 0.53 to 1.67) and 0.97 (0.40 to 1.55) points lower, respectively, than those who used private transport. Women who commuted via public or active modes had BMI scores 0.72 (0.06 to 1.37) and 0.87 (0.36 to 0.87) points lower, respectively, than those using private transport. Results for percentage body fat were similar in terms of magnitude, significance, and direction of effects.

CONCLUSIONS: Men and women who commuted to work by active and public modes of transport had significantly lower BMI and percentage body fat than their counterparts who used private transport. These associations were not attenuated by adjustment for a range of hypothesised confounding factors.

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