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Researchers at Columbia
University suggested that if additional study confirms their findings that
frequent business travel is unhealthy, corporations and other organizations may
want to reemphasize health-related elements of their programs. Options could
include reimbursement incentives for healthy eating, property selection based
on fitness facilities, employee stress management programs and education.
Public health experts
Catherine Richards and Andrew Rundle of Columbia's Department of Epidemiology last
month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
published a summary of their study of 13,000 medical records from preventative
health company EHE International's corporate wellness plan. They found the
greatest health concerns among travelers who were on the road more than 14
nights a month.
"Health outcomes were
consistently worse for those not traveling and those traveling the most,"
according to the researchers. "Specifically, self-rated health, prevalence
of obesity, body mass index and diastolic blood pressure displayed a U-shaped
pattern of associations with the extent of business travel." Assessing why
non-travelers also demonstrated unhealthy traits, the researchers wrote,
"Our data suggest that the non-traveling group includes a subpopulation
with ongoing health conditions who self-select not to, or are not chosen to,
travel for business. As a consequence, the non-traveling group displays poor
outcomes in our study."
Among those who do travel
for business, the study found "extensive travel to be associated with
poorer self-rated health, higher body mass index and worse clinical examination
results." Although the report's authors claimed no knowledge of past
research linking business travel and "self-rated health and clinical indicators
of chronic disease outcomes," they noted that other research has found
travel to be "associated with several negative health behaviors,"
including alcohol and higher-calorie meal consumption, more sedentary behaviors
and increased job strain with associated cardiovascular disease risk factors.
research substantiate a link between business travel and obesity and other
chronic disease health outcomes, there are several possibilities for workplace
interventions," the report concludes. "Employee education programs on
the association between business travel and health and on strategies to improve
diet and activity while traveling are a simple start. If the company reimburses
employees for meals while traveling, reimbursement rates could be tied to
dietary quality. A 'stick' approach might be to reimburse high-energy density
food meals at a below cost rate, while a 'carrot' approach might be to
reimburse healthy meals at an above cost rate. Companies that have arrangements
with particular hotel chains for volume or business discounts could make having
an available gymnasium part of the criteria for selecting hotel chains. In
addition to steering employees to hotels with gymnasiums, companies could also
provide financial incentives to employees to exercise while traveling. Lastly,
given the link between business travel and work stress and between stress and
diet and obesity, stress management classes and workshops may have utility in
reducing the impact of business travel on health."