Could Your Car Make You Obese?

Driving or Carpooling to Work Could Result in Obesity. Mark Bowden/Vetta/Getty Images

Many lifestyle factors are known to contribute to obesity, including consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and other sources of added sugar, lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle, and lack of sleep. Yet another factor has been found to be associated with overweight and obesity, and it is related to sedentary lifestyle: mode of transportation.

Driving Your Car Could Make You Weigh More

You already know that not all modes of transportation are created equal.

As it turns out, your body knows that, too. What are known as active modes of travel—walking or cycling, for example—have greater potential health benefits, and greater potential to prevent obesity.

In one study that looked at self-reported commuting mode (categorized as private transport, public transport, and active transport) in over 15,000 residents of the United Kingdom, those who traveled to work using active and public modes of transport had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who used private transport. (Private transport may include driving one’s own car and car pooling, for example.)

Not only did those who walked or cycled all or part of the way to work--as one might do by necessity when using public transit--have lower BMIs, but they also had lower percentages of body fat compared to those who got to work using their own private cars. Both men and women were found to reap the benefits of a more active mode of transportation.

Daily Physical Activity and Effect on Obesity

These results may come as no surprise when one considers the well-known effects of daily physical activity on treating and preventing obesity. Finding more ways to move throughout the day not only burns calories and drops pounds, it also builds and maintains cardiovascular fitness, lung capacity, muscle strength, balance and coordination.

Consider the case of someone who takes public transit to work rather than driving her own car. She will likely need to walk from her place of residence to the transit station, where she might then need to take the stairs in order to make it up or down to the platform, and then she might end up standing for part or all of the journey on the train, bus, or subway. When she reaches the transit station near her destination, she will then have to repeat the first part of the process over again, but in reverse, until she finally arrives at the door to her place of work. And then, when she leaves work, the whole process gets repeated yet again!

This person taking public transit is less sedentary by far than the person who walks three or four steps from her basement door to get into her car, where she sits for what may be quite a length of time, only to emerge in a parking lot or garage where she walks a few more feet to the door of her workplace. If she then takes the elevator instead of the stairs, she loses out on yet another possibility for working physical activity into her daily routine.

Knowing that taking the stairs can burn more calories per minute than jogging, and that walking even 15 minutes more per day can add years to one’s life, it seems easy to see how those who walk, jog, run, or bike to work and those who take public transit would weigh less and have less body fat—and, quite likely, have a healthier quality of life—than those who allow their cars to keep them trapped in a sedentary lifestyle.


Flint E, Cummins S, Sacker A. Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom. BMJ 2014;349:g4887.

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