Frequent Business Travel Linked to Increased Body Fat

Executives who travel frequently for business have increased measures of body fat, including body mass index (BMI) and percentage body fat, reports a study in the October Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Sharon H. Bergquist, MD, and colleagues of Emory University, Atlanta, analyzed the relationship between business travel and body fat using health records of 695 senior-level corporate executives. About 82 percent of the executives were men; average age was 52 years. About 45 percent of executives traveled 1 to 6 days per month, 37 percent traveled 7 to 13 days per month, and 12 percent traveled at least 14 days per month.

The data showed a "U-shaped" relationship between business travel and body fat: levels of body fat were increased for executives who did not travel at all and those who traveled most frequently. For both men and women, executives who traveled at least 14 days per month had the highest levels of BMI, body fat percentage, and visceral body fat (fat surrounding the internal organs).

Inadequate sleep and exercise had a greater effect on body fat in women who traveled frequently. After adjustment for age, exercise, and sleep habits, travel frequency was more strongly related to body fat in women compared to men. For men, international travel was more strongly related to body fat than domestic travel.
At least before the COVID-19 pandemic, business travel was increasing steadily. Previous research has suggested that frequent business travel may be associated with increased health risks, travel, including obesity and cardiometabolic disease.

The study adds new evidence that frequent business travelers have increases in several measures of body fat. Lifestyle habits such as sleep and exercise appear to have a greater impact in women executives. The association between international travel and body fat in men may be related to circadian rhythm disruption.
"Based on our results, consideration should be given to include advice on the importance of maintaining healthy habits among business travelers and on the potential chronobiologic effect of frequent international travel," Dr. Bergquist and colleagues conclude. While business travel has decreased due to COVID-19, the findings "may be pertinent to newly emerging work patterns" in the wake of the pandemic.
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About the Author
Dr. Bergquist may be contacted for interviews at shoresh@emory.edu.
 
About ACOEM
ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
 
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.

Citations

Bergquist SH, Marcus M, Meng Q, et al. Association between business travel, health-related behaviors, and adiposity. J Occup Environ Med. 2021;63(10):839-846.