Biobanking Science: Driving Linked to Obesity

UK Biobank study shows obesity is linked to driving more than 3 hours a day.

Driving linked to obesity
UK Biobank data links obesity to driving time.
Advertisement img

Eating unhealthy food, not exercising and being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (1-4). These diseases have become worldwide epidemics, killing millions of people each year.

The Obesity Epidemic

Obesity has tripled since 1975 and there are now more that 2 billion overweight or obese adults around the world (1). Anyone with a BMI over 25 is more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis and cancer (1).

Cancer will cause around 9.6 million deaths in 2018, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one third of these deaths are caused by obesity, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of exercise, and tobacco and alcohol use (2). Likewise, cardiovascular disease causes 17.9 million deaths a year, and some of this disease burden is caused by poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and obesity (3). Eating healthy food and exercising can prevent or delay diseases like type 2 diabetes (4). WHO recommends children exercise for 60 minutes per day and adults exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. They also recommend everyone eat at least 5 serves of fruit and vegetables a day.

Featured Partners

Obesity is Associated with Driving Time

A new study using UK Biobank data shows that driving time is associated with obesity (5). The UK Biobank project is a large population and biobanking study collecting biological samples and lifestyle and health data from over 500,000 British people.

More than 75% (386,493) of UK Biobank participants drive. Researchers parsed these people based on how many hours they drive per day. A little over 8% (31,663) drove for more that 3 hours per day. More men than women were in this group. The researchers found that people who drive more than 3 hours a day are more likely suffer with obesity, smoke, be sleep-deprived and inactive, and are less likely to eat fruit and vegetables. People who drive more also engaged in more sedentary screen time (computers and TV) than people who drove less.

The idea that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity and disease risk is not new – 74 previous studies have shown this is true. However, this UK Biobank study is the largest to show that driving, independent of other sedentary behaviors, correlates with obesity and other lifestyle indicators of poor health.

The results of this study echo a similar Australian study that looked at the driving habits and health of 2,800 people aged 34-65. The Australian study showed that driving for more than one hour a day significantly increases BMI, waist circumference, and fasting plasma glucose (6).

Why Is Driving Time Important?

These data are concerning because driving time is increasing in many countries, including the UK (5). More than 50% of people now living in England and Wales drive to work (5). Researchers postulate that part of the problem might be that driving causes more stress and anxiety, and uses less energy than taking public transport. This is because commuters often stand while riding or waiting for public transport, and may need to walk further distances to get to and from public transport (5,6).


These studies show that driving time increases the risk of obesity. The UK Biobank paper is a robust study with that uses data from over 380,000 people. These data show the value that biobanking projects offer researchers, participants and the general public. It also highlights the importance of collecting adequate lifestyle and medical data to accompany any biobanked specimens. The sort of study outlined in this article would not be possible without adequate data collection.



  1. World Health Organisation Obesity and overweight Key facts (Online). Accessed 27 September 2018
  2. World Health Organisation Cancer Key facts (Online). Accessed 27 September 2018
  3. World Health Organization Cardiovascular disease (Online). Accessed 27 September 2018
  4. World Health Organization Diabetes Key facts (Online). Accessed 27 September 2018
  5. Mackay et al. The association between driving time and unhealthy lifestyles: a cross-sectional, general population study of 386 493 UK Biobank participants. Journal of Public Health. 2018.
  6. Sugiyama et al. Adverse associations of car time with markers of cardio-metabolic risk. Preventative Medicine. 2016