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Obesity, Blood Pressure Rates Higher for Frequent Business Travelers

People who travel extensively for business – 20 or more nights away from home per month – have increased rates of obesity, higher cholesterol levels and higher blood pressure than employees who are away from home one to six nights per month.

In a new study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers Catherine A. Richards, MPH, and Andrew G. Rundle, DrPH, of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University compared health risks for employees at different levels of business travel, using data on more than 13,000 employees from a corporate wellness program. Close to 80 percent of the employees traveled at least one night per month. Nearly 1 percent of employees were considered “extensive travelers,” meaning they were on the road more than 20 nights per month.

Employees who did not travel at all actually were a less-healthy group. Compared to light travelers (one to six nights per month), non-travelers were about 60 percent more likely to rate their health as fair to poor. According to Richards and Rundle, this may reflect a “healthy worker effect,” with employees who have health problems being less likely to travel.

The study found that for employees who do travel, rates of less-than-good health increased as the nights of travel increased. Extensive travelers were 260 percent more likely to rate their health as fair to poor, compared to light travelers.

Other health risk factors showed similar patterns: obesity was 33 percent more likely for the group of non-travelers and 92 percent more likely for extensive travelers. The same two groups also were more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Although business travel often is equated with long airline flights, relatively short business trips in personal cars are more common. Researchers noted that several factors – including poor sleep, fattening foods and long periods of inactivity – could contribute to health risks in frequent business travelers.

Rundle and Richards noted that more research is needed to substantiate the link between frequent business travel and increased health risks, and they suggested that employers offer stress management classes, select hotels with gym facilities and tie meal reimbursements to healthier food choices.

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