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Associations between active travel and diet: cross-sectional evidence on healthy, low-carbon behaviours from UK Biobank
  1. Michaela A Smith1,
  2. Jan Rasmus Boehnke1,2,
  3. Hilary Graham1,
  4. Piran C L White3,
  5. Stephanie L Prady1
  1. 1 Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK
  2. 2 School of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  3. 3 Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michaela A Smith; michaela.smith{at}


Objectives To examine whether there are associations between active travel and markers of a healthy, low-carbon (HLC) diet (increased consumption of fruit and vegetables (FV), reduced consumption of red and processed meat (RPM)).

Design Cross-sectional analysis of a cohort study.

Settings Population cohort of over 500 000 people recruited from 22 centres across the UK. Participants aged between 40 and 69 years were recruited between 2006 and 2010.

Participants 412 299 adults with complete data on travel mode use, consumption of FV and RPM, and sociodemographic covariates were included in the analysis.

Exposure measures Mutually exclusive mode or mode combinations of travel (car, public transport, walking, cycling) for non-work and commuting journeys.

Outcome measures Consumption of FV measured as portions per day and RPM measured as frequency per week.

Results Engaging in all types of active travel was positively associated with higher FV consumption and negatively associated with more frequent RPM consumption. Cycling exclusively or in combination with walking was most strongly associated with increased dietary consumption of FV and reduced consumption of RPM for both non-work and commuting journeys. Overall, the strongest associations were between non-work cycling and FV consumption (males: adjusted OR=2.18, 95% CI 2.06 to 2.30; females: adjusted OR=2.50, 95% CI 2.31 to 2.71) and non-work cycling and RPM consumption (males: adjusted OR=0.57, 95% CI 0.54 to 0.60; females: adjusted OR=0.54, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.59). Associations were generally similar for both commuting and non-work travel, and were robust to adjustment with sociodemographic and behavioural factors.

Conclusions There are strong associations between engaging in active travel, particularly cycling, and HLC dietary consumption, suggesting that these HLC behaviours are related. Further research is needed to better understand the drivers and dynamics between these behaviours within individuals, and whether they share common underlying causes.

  • public health
  • preventive medicine
  • epidemiology
  • active travel
  • diet

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  • Contributors MAS, JRB, HG, PCLW and SLP made substantial contributions to the conception and design of the study and interpretation of data. MAS undertook the statistical analysis with input from JRB and SLP. MAS drafted the article and JRB, HG, PCLW and SLP revised it critically for important intellectual content. MAS, JRB, HG, PCLW and SLP approved the final version of the manuscript to be published.

  • Funding MAS was supported by a PhD studentship from the University of York as part of the Health of Populations and Ecosystems (HOPE) project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/L003015/1), awarded to HG and PCLW.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval UK Biobank received ethics approval from the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care and the National Health Service North West Centre for Research Ethics Committee (Ref: 11/NW/0382).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement This study used data from the UK Biobank (application 14840) which does not permit public sharing of the data. The data are, however, open to all qualified researchers anywhere in the world and can be accessed by applying through the UK Biobank Access Management System (

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