The Price of Those Frequent Flier Miles

Clearly, these corporate darlings only travel 1-6 nights a month. Image from

Up until recently, my roommate Mickey traveled a lot for work. He’d sometimes  be gone up to 2o nights a month. Which, to be honest, made him kind of an awesome roommate. But, in his view, didn’t make him a very healthy person.

You don’t have a lot of options for eating well on the road, he’s noticed. And when your days start early with morning meetings and end late with client dinners it’s hard to even think about exercising.

Columbia University public health researcher Andrew Rundle has had the same problem traveling for his job.  His new study in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine explored whether his and Mickey’s experience fit a trend.

There seems to be a fairly linear relationship between number of nights spent on business travel, and a person’s health. Dr. Rundle looked at medical exam reports of hundreds of American workers. He broke people up into five categories — those who engaged in no business travel, those traveling 1 to 6 days per month, those traveling 7 to 13 days  per month, those traveling 14 to 20 days per month, and those traveling 21 or more days per month. He found that the likelihood of obesity increased with travel frequency, as did self-reports of poor health.

I should note that people who didn’t travel at all bucked the trend.  They had similarly poor health to people who spent the majority of their work time on the road.  Dr. Rundle says this result was likely influenced by the fact that people in poor health tend not to travel in the first place.

So what can be done? Some workers have to travel to advance their careers.  Dr. Rundle suggests employers use their purchasing power to prefer hotels with gyms and healthier food options.  He also warns road warriors against falling into the “I’m on vacation!” mindset, which people may use to excuse slips from their normal diet and exercise habits.