People who travel for business for two weeks or more in a month have higher rates of obesity and poorer self-rated health than those who travel less often, a study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has revealed.
The study drew data from medical records of more than 13,000 employees in a corporate wellness programme. Nearly 80 per cent of employees travelled at least one night a month, and one per cent travelled more than 20 nights a month.
The study eventually found that business people who travelled the most (20 or more days a month) have poorer health on a number of measures compared to those who travel between one and six days a month. According to the study, extensive travellers had a mean Body Mass Index (BMI) of 27.5 kg/m2 whereas the light travellers had 26.1 kg/m2. Extensive travellers had a mean HDL level of 53.3mg/Dl and the light travellers had 56.1mg/Dl. Extensive travellers also had a mean Diastolic pressure of 76.2mm/Hg whereas the light travellers had 74.6mm/Hg.
Employees who did not travel at all also scored poorly on health measures as they were about 60 per cent more likely than light travellers to rate their health as fair to poor.
In Nigeria, a medical practitioner who works with the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Eze Ikechukwu, also confirms the study. According to him, when someone travels all the time especially through the air, he/she burns less fat and when one burns less fat, there is a high tendency of becoming obese.
“The major correlation is that when you travel very frequently, you are most likely to sit much without exercising much, unlike people who travel less and work out more.
This is however not limited to frequent travellers alone because even non travellers could gain excess body mass index if they sit too much without exercising. At the long run, if you become too fat, it will attract a lot of conditions and you are going to be mostly unwell,” Ikechukwu stresses.
Reacting to the study, Maimuna Ibrahim, an Abuja based business woman who travels at least five times in a month says she often gets sick after some trips.
She narrates, “I am a businesswoman and the market is very competitive so most times I travel abroad to purchase my products because I want mine to be unique. At times I travel to Lagos and Port-Harcourt but most times I go to Dubai and China. I mostly go on these trips with flight and sometimes my feet get swollen. Whenever I go for check-up, the doctor advises me to exercise my body so that my heart and blood vessels could be more active. With my kind of schedule, sincerely I do forget about exercise, despite his counsel, I can’t remember when last I did a vigorous exercise because I feel satisfied with the pills and supplements I take.”
The study also found that health outcomes were worse for those not travelling at all and those travelling excessively.” A Doctoral candidate in the Mailman School, Department of Epidemiology, Catherine Richards says, “While the differences in clinical values for diastolic blood pressure and HDL are small, the results for self rated health are of concern because this simple measure is a very robust predictor of mortality. Similarly, the associations between business travel and obesity are noteworthy because of the many negative health consequences of this condition.”
According to another Abuja-based medical practitioner Abuja, Dr. Ajayi Idowu, excessive travellers are mostly inactive and inactivity is a major cause of obesity.
“Most excessive travellers have to wait. They wait in the airport, in the plane, and they eventually sleep in the plane, all these factors make them inactive during most of the day. Even when they get to their destinations, they mostly dwell on junks instead of real food and this contributes to weight gain.
“Those who travel lightly are more likely to be healthy because the brief travel helps them to relax and refresh which contributes to good health.”
The authors of the study note that 81 per cent of business travel is done in personal automobiles, which is associated with long hours of sitting and a high probability of poor food choices. While research to date has associated business travel with infectious disease health risks, this is the one of the first studies to report the effects of business travel on health risks associated with cardiovascular disease.
According to Rundle, associate professor of Epidemiology and senior author, the analyses represent an important first step in investigating the associations between chronic health conditions and business travel, suggesting that individuals who travel extensively for work are at increased risk for health problems and should be encouraged to monitor their health.
“Should further research substantiate a link between business travel and obesity and other chronic disease health outcomes, there are several possibilities for workplace interventions. Employee education programmes and strategies to improve diet and activity while travelling are a simple start.” Rundle adds.