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Could the path of your commute lead to an increased BMI?

For many people, their commute to and from work can be the most stressful part of their day. Whether your commuting by car, bus, or train, it’s seldom an enjoyable experience. And all of the stress of work life and time away from home does have health consequences, but a new study has found that some of these consequences can be directly linked to the path of your commute.

A recent study published in the open access journal PLOS ONE has found that the number of different types of food stores available near residences and commute routes had a significant association with body mass index (BMI). 

While previous studies have found links between food stores available in residential neighborhoods and residents’ health outcomes – including BMI – few studies have assessed the impact of food stores near workplaces, and none have included food options along commuting routes.

Researcher Adriana Dornelles of Arizona State University analyzed data from 710 elementary school employees in New Orleans, Louisiana. She used existing databases to determine the number of supermarkets, grocery stores, full-service restaurants, and fast-food restaurants within 1 kilometer of the employee’s residential and workplace addresses. 

Additionally, Dornelles incorporated into her study the number and type of food stores within 1 kilometer of the shortest-distance commute path between an employee’s residence and their workplace.

After adjusting for socio-demographic factors, analysis of the data determined that a greater number of fast-food restaurants near a person’s commute route was linked to the individual having a higher BMI. 

Furthermore, higher BMI was also associated with a greater number of supermarkets, grocery stores, and fast-food restaurants near residences. On the opposite end of the spectrum, more full-service restaurants near an individual’s residence was correlated with lower BMI.

“The most important finding of the study was to establish a significant relationship between BMI and multiple food environments,” explains Dornelles. “In our daily lives, we are exposed to several healthy and unhealthy food choices, which has an impact on BMI. The availability and variety of fast-food restaurants along our commute create endless opportunities for a quick, cheap, and unhealthy meal, which results, on average, in higher body mass index.”

Dornelles also notes that the findings of the study show a need to consider numerous environmental factors when assessing what effects BMI. In the future, increased understanding of these factors may be able to help inform interventions to promote better health outcomes.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/DGLimages

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