Impact of changes in mode of travel to work on changes in body mass index: evidence from the British Household Panel Survey

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2015 Aug;69(8):753-61. doi: 10.1136/jech-2014-205211. Epub 2015 May 7.


Background: Active commuting is associated with various health benefits, but little is known about its causal relationship with body mass index (BMI).

Methods: We used cohort data from three consecutive annual waves of the British Household Panel Survey, a longitudinal study of nationally representative households, in 2004/2005 (n=15,791), 2005/2006 and 2006/2007. Participants selected for the analyses (n=4056) reported their usual main mode of travel to work at each time point. Self-reported height and weight were used to derive BMI at baseline and after 2 years. Multivariable linear regression analyses were used to assess associations between switching to and from active modes of travel (over 1 and 2 years) and change in BMI (over 2 years) and to assess dose-response relationships.

Results: After adjustment for socioeconomic and health-related covariates, the first analysis (n=3269) showed that switching from private motor transport to active travel or public transport (n=179) was associated with a significant reduction in BMI compared with continued private motor vehicle use (n=3090; -0.32 kg/m(2), 95% CI -0.60 to -0.05). Larger adjusted effect sizes were associated with switching to active travel (n=109; -0.45 kg/m(2), -0.78 to -0.11), particularly among those who switched within the first year and those with the longest journeys. The second analysis (n=787) showed that switching from active travel or public transport to private motor transport was associated with a significant increase in BMI (0.34 kg/m(2), 0.05 to 0.64).

Conclusions: Interventions to enable commuters to switch from private motor transport to more active modes of travel could contribute to reducing population mean BMI.


Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Bicycling / statistics & numerical data
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transportation / methods*
  • Transportation / statistics & numerical data
  • United Kingdom
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data