Study: Dallas Workers' Long Commutes Are Making Us All Fat and Diabetic

Nothing says Dallas quite an unbroken line of cars inching down a four-lane freeway from far-flung suburbs, wrapping themselves and the rest of the city in a shroud of exhaust. We live for this stuff. Why else would Dallasites spend 58 hours per year in traffic?

Apparently, though, our love of traffic jams (and our penchant for living unsustainably far from our workplaces) isn't very good for us, at least according to a study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study followed 4,297 people, mostly in the Dallas area, and correlated the distance of their commutes with such things as waist size, body mass index, cholesterol levels, etc.

The resulting paper, snappily titled "Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk," essentially found that people who drive a long way to work are fatter and have higher blood pressure.

Specifically, workers who travel more than 15 miles to work are about seven percent more likely to have elevated blood pressure and be obese. Those, in turn, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

I called up the study's main author, Christine Hoehner of Washington University in St. Louis, to ask: Hey, what's your problem with Dallas anyway? If you're so concerned with fat Texans, why not try San Antonio?

When Hoehner mentioned she grew up in Farmer's Branch it became clear: she must be a self-loathing Dallasite. During our conversation, she repeatedly cast aspersions on the city, calling it "car-centric" and "ranked among the top five congested cities" in the country.

But motives aside -- Hoehner said the drivers, almost all of whom are white dudes, were selected because they were already participating in a broader health study at North Dallas' Cooper Clinic -- what does Hoehner suggest we do to keep our commutes from killing us? Should we all live in Frisco and bike to work? Sleep at the office? Raze the city and build a walkable urban paradise from the ground up?

Hoehner doesn't rule any of those out but recommends several: She recently cut her own commute from 38 miles to 2 1/2 and wears a pedometer. Those tied to an office can walk before or after work or take breaks during the day. Workplaces should be flexible in scheduling, allowing employees to avoid rush hour traffic, a la the Observer, where the employee handbook lists the official start time as "whenever the Advil kicks in."

One thing I'm pretty sure she meant to mention was toll roads. Build more of those things and your commute will be so easy, you'll probably live forever. (Sorry, Jim.)

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson