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Public transport 'is bad for commuters' health'

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Swedish researchers have carried out a survey which, they say, reveals that commuting by public transport or by car damages people's health compared to making the journey to work by foot or bicycle. Curiously, the research also appeared to show that a long commute by car led to better health than a short drive in.

The survey covered some 21,088 Swedes all of whom worked more than 30 hours a week. Their perceived healthiness was measured by asking questions related to general health, sleep quality, exhaustion and everyday stress, and the results assessed against the length of their journeys to work and the means of transport used.

Perhaps obviously, the cyclists and walkers came out tops for how healthy they were feeling, with drivers in general and users of public transport feeling comparatively grotty. For the public transport users, the longer the journey the worse they felt: but among drivers, those who had a journey over an hour long felt in better shape than those with a short trip of 30 to 60 minutes.

"Generally car and public transport users suffered more everyday stress, poorer sleep quality, exhaustion and, on a seven-point scale, felt that they struggled with their health compared to the active commuters," comments Prof Erik Hansson of Lund Uni. "The negative health of public transport users increased with journey time. However, the car drivers who commuted 30 – 60 minutes experienced worse health than those whose journey lasted more than one hour."

Hansson and his colleagues aren't sure why the long-distance drivers felt in such good shape compared to those who spent less time behind the wheel, but he offers some ideas.

"One explanation for the discrepancy between car and public transport users might be that long-distance car commuting, within our geographical region, could provide more of an opportunity for relaxation," he commented. "However, it could be that these drivers tended to be men, and high-income earners, who travelled in from rural areas, a group that generally consider themselves to be in good health. More research needs to be done to identify how exactly commuting is related to the ill health we observed in order to readdress the balance between economic needs, health, and the costs of working days lost."

The study is published in full today by BMC Public Health. ®

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