Study: Obese individuals who commute by car 32% more likely to die prematurely

GLASGOW, Scotland — People who commute to work via car and considered obese are 32 percent more likely to die from any cause, a new study out of the University of Glasgow finds.

What’s more, researchers say that car commuters with obesity are also twice as likely to die from heart disease when compared to individuals at healthy weights and considered “active commuters,” that is, they get to work on bicycle or by foot. Conversely, obese people who actively commuted to work had a risk of premature death from any cause similar to those at a normal weight — an indication that biking or walking to work could essentially negate some of the dangerous risks associated with obesity.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow examined data from 163,149 participants in the UK Biobank — a long-term study in the United Kingdom that follows the health and well-being of more than 500,000 adults annually. The authors grouped individuals based on whether they commuted to work by car, bike, foot, or a mix of biking and walking. Participants were tracked for about five years on average, with researchers recording any deaths or hospital admissions from heart disease.

At the end of the study period, 2,425 people had died and 7,973 developed heart disease. When comparing body weights and commuting preferences of participants, researchers determined that obese individuals (those with a body mass index of 30 or higher) who don’t actively commute to work had a 32 percent higher risk for premature death, twice the risk of death from heart disease, and a 59 percent greater risk of suffering from non-fatal heart diseases.

“Our findings, if causal, suggest that people with overweight or obesity could potentially decrease the risk of premature mortality if they engage in active commuting,” the authors conclude. “Regardless of your body weight, being physically active could partly reduce the excess risk associated with obesity. However, compared to other forms of physical activity — such as gyms and exercises classes — active commuting can be implemented and fitted within our daily routines, often with no additional cost, but at the same time could increase our overall physical activity levels and therefore help to meet the current physical activity recommendations for health.”

The research is being presented at the 2019 European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.