Lengthy work commutes aren’t good for our bodies or minds. Studies show that they reduce job satisfaction, trigger stress and exhaustion, and are linked to everything from high blood pressure to lower cardiovascular fitness levels. Now, The Guardian reports, new research shows that the average UK commuter reported consuming nearly 800 extra calories a week while commuting—mostly from snacking on junk food.
More than 24 million people commute to work each day in England and Wales, mainly by car, bus, or train. The average commute is 56 minutes. To gauge the public health impact, Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) hired Populus, a British market research company, to poll around 1500 workers.
Subjects were asked multiple questions about their trip to and from work, including whether they ate one (or more) of 12 unhealthy food items while commuting. The most popular item was found to be a chocolate bar, followed by potato chips (or crisps, in British). Workers also said they consumed fast food meals, muffins, soda, and alcohol. In all, responses suggested that UK commuters consume a median of 767 extra calories each week—and that’s not even accounting for items that weren’t included on the list.
Emma Lloyd, a policy and research manager at RSPH, says it makes sense that people tend to eat junk food during their daily journey to and from work. Commuting is stressful, she points out in a statement quoted by The Guardian. And thanks to advertising and availability, it’s easy for people to indulge in fattening comfort foods in bus and train stations.
The RSPH is calling for stations to restrict junk food outlets, and for train and bus franchises to be issued health and well-being requirements. Still, improved regulations won’t mitigate a long commute’s other harmful health effects. While around one-third of the poll’s respondents reported that they snacked while commuting, the survey revealed that 41 percent of respondents said their commutes caused them to exercise less, and 36 percent said they slept less. Meanwhile, 44 percent said they spent less time with family and friends, and 55 percent said their stress levels increased.
The RSPH believes that telecommuting and flexible office hours could improve workers’ health. They also recommend for railway companies to provide more seating for passengers to make their rides more comfortable. Meanwhile, health experts urge people to choose an active commute—say, biking or walking to work—if it’s feasible for their lifestyles.
Would the RSPH’s findings be similar in America? Commuting is an entirely different experience here, so the jury's still out. The average commuting time is 25.4 minutes, and in 2013 around 86 percent of workers drove to the office. However, experts do estimate that 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in cars—and let's face it, most grab-and-go meals aren't healthy.
[h/t The Guardian]