To further understand documented associations between obesity and urban sprawl, this research describes individuals’ trade-offs between health-related activities and commuting time. A cross-section of 24,861 working-age individuals employed full-time and residing in urban counties is constructed from the American Time Use Survey (2003–2010). Data are analyzed using seemingly unrelated regressions to quantify health-related activity decreases in response to additional time spent commuting. Outcomes are total daily minutes spent in physical activity at a moderate or greater intensity, preparing food, eating meals with family, and sleeping. Commuting time is measured as all travel time between home and work and vice versa. The mean commuting time is 62 min daily, the median is 55 min, and 10.1% of workers commute 120 min or more. Spending an additional 60 min daily commuting above average is associated with a 6% decrease in aggregate health-related activities and spending an additional 120 min is associated with a 12% decrease. The greatest percentage of commuting time comes from sleeping time reductions (28–35%). Additionally, larger proportions of commuting time are taken from physical activity and food preparation relative to the mean commuting length: of 60 min spent commuting, 16.1% is taken from physical activity and 4.1% is taken from food preparation; of 120 min commuting, 20.3% is taken from physical activity and 5.6% is taken from food preparation. The results indicate that longer commutes are associated with behavioral patterns which over time may contribute to obesity and other poor health outcomes. These findings will assist both urban planners and researchers wishing to understand time constraints’ impacts on health.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Wolf A, Colditz G. Current estimates of the economic cost of obesity in the United States. Obes Res. 1998; 6(2): 97–106.
Finkelstein E, Fiebelkom I, Wang G. National medical spending attributable to overweight and obesity: how much, and who’s paying? Heal Aff. 2003; W3: 219–226.
Allison D, Fontaine K, Manson J, Stevens J, VanItallie T. Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States. JAMA. 1999; 282(16): 1530–1538.
Black J, Macinko J. Neighborhoods and obesity. Nutr Rev. 2008; 66(1): 2–20.
Ewing R, Schmid T, Killingsworth R, Zlot A, Raudenbush S. Relationship between urban sprawl and physical activity, obesity, and morbidity. Am J Heal Promot. 2003; 18(1): 47–57.
Giles-Corti B, Macintyre S, Clarkson J, Pikora T, Donovan R. Environmental and lifestyle factors associated with overweight and obesity in Perth, Australia. Am J Heal Promot. 2003; 18(1): 93–102.
Saelens B, Sallis J, Black J, Chen D. Neighborhood-based differences in physical activity: an environmental scale evaluation. Am J Public Health. 2003; 93(9): 1552–1558.
Frank L, Andresen M, Schmid T. Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars. Am J Prev Med. 2004; 27(2): 87–96.
Lopez R. Urban sprawl and risk for being overweight or obese. Am J Public Health. 2004; 94(9): 1574–1579.
Rashad I, Eriksen M. Do sprawling counties in Georgia adversely affect health? A focus on obesity and cancer. Urban-Rural Conference Proceedings. 2005;August:299-305.
Zhao Z, Kaestner R. Effects of urban sprawl on obesity. J Heal Econ. 2010; 29(6): 779–787.
Lopez-Zetina J, Lee H, Friis R. The link between obesity and the built environment. Evidence from an ecological analysis of obesity and vehicle miles of travel in California. Heal Place. 2006; 12(4): 656–664.
Grossman M. The demand for health: a theoretical and empirical investigation. New York: Columbia University Press for the National Bureau of Economic Research; 1972.
Cawley J. An economic framework for understanding physical activity and eating behaviors. Am J Prev Med. 2004; 27(3S): 117–125.
Wolin K, Bennett G, McHeil L, Sorensen G, Emmons K. Low discretionary time as a barrier to physical activity and intervention uptake. Am J Heal Behav. 2008; 32(6): 563–569.
Jekanowski M, Binkley J, Eales J. Convenience, accessibility, and the demand for fast food. J Agric Resour Econ. 2001; 26(1): 58–74.
Devine C, Connors M, Sobal J, Bisogni C. Sandwiching it in: spillover of work onto food choices and family roles in low- and moderate-income urban households. Soc Sci Med. 2003; 56: 617–630.
Cutler D, Glaeser E, Shapiro J. Why have Americans become more obese? J Econ Perspect. 2003; 17(3): 93–118.
Gangwisch J, Malaspina D, Borden-Albala B, Heymsfield S. Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: analyses of the NHANES I. Sleep. 2005; 28(10): 1289–1296.
Tudor-Locke C, Washington T, Ainsworth B, Troiano R. Linking the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) and the Compendium of Physical Activities: methods and rationale. J Phys Act Heal. 2009; 6(3): 346–353.
Brown C, Borisova T. Understanding commuting and grocery shopping using the American Time Use Survey. Paper prepared for presentation at the International Association of Time Use Research XXIX. 2007.
Ruhm C. Healthy living in hard times. J Heal Econ. 2005; 24: 341–363.
Drewnowski A. Obesity and the food environment: dietary energy density and diet costs. Am J Prev Med. 2004; 27(3): 154–162.
Plantinga A, Bernell S. A spatial economic analysis of urban land use and obesity. J Reg Sci. 2005; 45(3): 473–492.
Eid J, Overman H, Puga D, Turner M. Fat city: questioning the relationship between urban sprawl and obesity. J Urban Econ. 2008; 63(2): 385–404.
Innumerable faculty and student colleagues of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and several anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments at all stages of this research, and I would like to acknowledge research support from the Dan E. Sweat Dissertation Fellowship. I also particularly thank Inas Rashad Kelly for continued suggestions, guidance, and encouragement. All errors are my own.
About this article
Cite this article
Christian, T.J. Trade-Offs Between Commuting Time and Health-Related Activities. J Urban Health 89, 746–757 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-012-9678-6
- Health behaviors
- Time allocation
- Time scarcity