More time driving increases obesity risk, study suggests

A study out of the University of Calgary suggests drivers who spend more time behind the wheel are more likely to be overweight than those who use more active modes of transportation.

Review from University of Calgary looked at 10 studies from different countries

Calgary has the fifth worst traffic gridlock in the country, according to one study. New research is now saying more time behind the wheel is also bad for your waistline. (CBC)

A study out of the University of Calgary suggests drivers who spend more time behind the wheel are more likely to be overweight.

Researchers conducted a review of 10 studies done in different countries, including one in Calgary.

A review of 10 studies done by University of Calgary researchers suggests the more people drive, the greater their risk of obesity or becoming overweight. (Kim Johnson Flodin/ Associated Press)

Eight of those suggest there is a link between the amount of time or distance travelled in a vehicle and extra pounds on the scale — something that caught the attention of the review's co-author Gavin McCormack.

 "Much of the results were sort of what we would expect because we know that sedentary behaviour by itself — sitting — is associated negatively with health and also increased risk of overweight and obesity," said the public health researcher. 

"We sort of expected that driving behaviour would see a similar relationship but the fact that we saw a consistent relationship across different cities, different countries — with eight of the 10 of our studies showing there was a relationship — that's sort of not so much surprising but alarming."

Risk spikes at more than 30 minutes of driving

The overall findings didn't suggest a specific amount of driving that puts drivers at an increased obesity risk.

"But a study that was undertaken in Calgary in 2007 and 2008, that was included in the review, showed that by driving more than 30 minutes a day increased your risk of overweight and obesity than those who drove for less than 30 minutes a day," said McCormack.

Gavin McCormack is a public health researcher at the University of Calgary. (CBC)

The research also found more driving can lead to frequent visits to drive-thru restaurants, meaning more fast food — another factor for weight gain. 

His suggestion is to choose healthier and more active transportation alternatives, such as walking and cycling. McCormack says it is important information for policy makers and urban planners to keep in mind for new construction around the city.

"We've got to try and get adults to drive less," said McCormack.

"I think simply just telling people to be more active or to use the transit or to walk or to cycle isn't going to be enough by itself, and there needs to be infrastructure changes, design changes that can facilitate making walking and cycling an easy option and driving a less convenient option."

Adam Brown, a fitness instructor who drives to work, is not surprised by the findings.  

"When I go through rush hour once in a blue moon it's so annoying. It's frustrating sitting in traffic for 45 minutes, an hour, barely going anywhere," he said.

Brown thinks the findings of the study are so interesting he may suggest his clients avoid driving for long periods of time in the future.

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