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In memory of the DODO: investigating the health costs of car commuting

Dr Melissa Stoneham writes:

First we had FIFO (fly in fly out), then along came DIDO (drive in, drive out) and now we have DODOs.

The term DODO, which stands for driver only, driver owned car, was used by the late Professor Frank Fisher from Swinburne University.

In memory of Professor Fisher, the latest JournalWatch features an article published this month by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, titled “Commuting by car”, which investigates the effect commuting has on gain weight among adults.

Takemi Sugiyama, from the Behavioural Epidemiology Department at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, and colleagues examined whether commuting by car was associated with adults’ weight gain over a four-year period.

More than 800 people in Adelaide, aged between 20 and 66 years, were tracked for four years and adjustments made for variables including walking for transport, occupational physical activity, TV viewing and leisure time car use. Self-reported weight, work status and commuting time were collected at baseline and again at follow up.

Some of the findings were not startling. As you might expect, the authors found that over the period of the study, those who used cars daily for commuting tended to gain more weight than those who did not commute by car.

However, this relationship was pronounced among those who were physically active during leisure time, which is a little odd. Among those who participated in at least two and a half hours of weekly exercise, it was the car commuters who gained an average of 1.6 kilograms over the four years – which is half a kilogram more than people who used public transport, walked to work or worked from home.

So these findings, if taken in isolation, might put a cat amongst the pigeons when it comes to public health messages; however, it is expected there were other factors at work that were not considered in the study.

In addition, there is sufficient evidence to show the health effects of being regularly active in transport.

But let’s just take a minute to look at another issue related to sitting in cars – particularly for DODOs – this issue of congestion and stress.

In Perth, the RAC recently released their BusinessWise-CCI Congestion Survey of more than 400 businesses. Nine out of ten businesses said that traffic congestion had increased the time their workers spent on the roads over the past 12 months, leading to a range of negative consequences, including higher fuel costs, lower productivity and increased stress for employees.

More than 60% of respondents said congestion had added at least 10 hours per week to their time on the road over the past 12 months. Almost one in five respondents said their workers were now spending more than 50 hours in additional time on the road compared to 12 months ago.

Almost 80% of working Australian adults use their car to travel to work, and in my home town of Perth, it has been identified that we are the highest users of private vehicles in the country.

However, despite the numerous messages and campaigns encouraging us to Travel Smart, Be Active or Find 30, it remains a challenge to influence commuting behaviour – whether by promoting physically active transport, reducing sitting time in a car, or designing better road systems and transport options.

• Commuting by Car – Weight Gain Among Physically Active Adults. Takemi Sugiyama, Ding Ding & Neville Owen. Am J Prev Med 2013;44 (2):169 –173. 

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About JournalWatch

The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.

The Journals reviewed include:

  • Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
  • Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
  • Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
  • Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
  • Lancet
  • Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
  • Tobacco Control (TC)
  • American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
  • Health Promotion International (HPI)
  • American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM)

These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe to Journal Watch go to http://www.phaiwa.org.au/index.php/other-projects-mainmenu-146/journalwatch

PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au

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Previous JournalWatch articles

Time for another Sid the Seagull?

• Tackling the unhealthy food supply in disadvantaged communities

• Smoking at the movies, a global public health concern

• Sports clubs are winners when alcohol sponsorship is dropped

• Call for more research and planning to deal with public health challenges of mega events

• Environmental factors that promote cycling

• A focus on the corporate practices that contribute to poor health

 How much healthy food is sold at fast food restaurants?

• Why the world needs a dengue day

 Germany’s role in undermining tobacco control

 

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