A wry view of life for the world-weary

A New Day Yesterday – Part Twenty One


I reported some months ago that having retired instead of piling on the avoirdupois as I had anticipated, I found I had lost a stone in next to no time. My weight has now stabilised so thoughts that I had acquired a tapeworm as a tenant or that the weight loss was the harbinger of some dread disease can, perhaps, be put to bed, at least for the time being. TOWT, rather uncharitably I thought, ascribed the change in my size down to being deprived of boozy lunches and gargantuan meals that were the natural bedfellows of a career in financial services.

But now I think I have put my finger on the cause, if a report called Health in a Hurry, written by Emma Lloyd and published by the Royal Society for Public Health, is to be believed. The average commute, apparently, is 55 minutes a day, to and from work, although some 3 million have a journey of two hours or more a day and 900,000 a commute of over three hours a day. Of the 1,500 commuters who were surveyed around 40% claimed that their commute reduced their ability to exercise, a similar number claimed that their travels to and from work ate into the time that they had available to sleep and around a third reported increased snacking or fast food consumption.

Focusing on foodstuffs, respondents were presented with a list of twelve items and were invited to identify which, if any, they consumed during their journeys to and from work. The most popular item on the list was a chocolate bar followed by a packet of crisps. Also featuring towards the top end of the popularity charts were fizzy drinks, fast food meals, muffins and alcohol. The median amount of calories consumed by the commuter a week through this in-transit grazing came to 767. So there we have it – the stress of commuting causes us to guzzle unhealthy foods to the tune of around 800 calories a week.

The principal causes of commuter stress are unsurprising – journey delays, overcrowding, anti-social behaviour, uncomfortable temperatures and journey length. Naturally, the commuter needs to have some pleasure in their life and brighten up their dull existence by treating themselves to something naughty but nice. And, of course, station forecourts these days offer myriad temptations. It is hard to find the ticket barriers for all the fast food emporia, coffee shops and bun stores. To use a glorious word which I shall henceforth adopt and endeavour to use at every opportunity, railway stations are obesogenic environments. No wonder the commuter succumbs.

The report goes somewhat off the rails in my view when it advocates that the number of junk food outlets in stations and that there should be a health and welfare threshold to be met when rail and bus franchises are awarded. Rather, I would have thought, let’s try and eliminate what causes the stress in the first place and deliver a reliable, comfortable, timely train service.

So there we have it – my weight loss could well be down to no longer reaching for comfort foods on my commute. But then I stopped and thought about it and I can’t say I really ate any snacks on the train. Still, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I have an excuse which is backed up by research from a Royal Society no less. It may be baloney as far as I am concerned, but if you don’t tell, I won’t.


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