Long commute to work linked to poor diet, stress and high blood pressure

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The average UK commuter adds almost 800 calories to their diet every week as a result of their journey to and from work, according to a report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH).

The report, “Health in a hurry”, analysed the impact of travelling to and from work by rail, bus and car (passive commuting) on the public’s health and wellbeing, with longer commute times being associated with increased stress, higher blood pressure and body mass index, and reduced time available for health-promoting activities such as cooking, exercising and sleeping.

Commuters in London had an average journey of 79 minutes, compared with just under 45 minutes for people living in Wales. Of more than 1,500 commuters polled:

  • More than half (55%) reported an increase in stress levels.
  • Almost half (44%) said commuting meant they spent less time with family and friends.
  • More than two in five (41%) had reduced physical activity.
  • More than one-third (36%) said they experienced reduced sleep.
  • Almost two in five (38%) spent less time preparing healthy meals.
  • Around one-third reported increased snacking (33%) or fast-food consumption (29%).

In order to combat many of these issues, the society is now calling for a “concerted effort” from employers to increase flexible and home working, so easing the strain on the roads and rail network during rush hour.

Almost three in five (58%) of those polled said they felt flexible working hours would improve their health and wellbeing.

The RSPH is also calling for Network Rail to “restrict the proliferation of junk food outlets in stations” and for health and wellbeing to be an explicit specification when awarding train and bus franchises.

This would mean a “health and wellbeing” requirement would be incorporated within franchise agreements to encourage transport providers to make the commuting environment more health-promoting.

RSPH president Shirley Cramer said: “As the length of our commute increases, the impact is getting worse, including contributing to rising levels of stress, adding to our waistlines, or eating into time we could otherwise spend doing activities that enhance our health and wellbeing.”

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