Driven to obesity

The New York Times notes that business travel spending in on the rise with small-business owners, sales representatives or corporate executives and other business travelers finding themselves in the front of the plane.  The hotel industry too is seeing a spurt of new products at the top with fabled hotels like the Goring in London being restored and Hilfiger seeking to join a hotel-fashion club pioneered by Bulgari and Versace. However, along with news of the pick up in travel comes a somewhat disquieting report on the impact of prolonged road trips on travelers and hotel guests published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study conducted by two Columbia University researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health sought to "assess associations between extent of travel for business and health". The data was collected nearly a decade ago but make a somewhat alarming if obvious conclusion was that those who were on the road 20 or more days per month had more cardiovascular risk factors. They also had a higher body mass index, a lower level of  good cholesterol and higher blood pressure. Interestingly, the study's authors found that while there was a large body of evidence and studies on infectious diseases travelers are likely to contract very little if any was available on non-infectious ailments except for deep vein thrombosis, an affliction peculiar to some long-haul travelers.  While 81% of business travel occurs via cars all of travel runs the risk of sleep disorders, increased alcohol consumption, exposure to high–energy density “fast” foods, and long periods of sedentary behavior.  The scholars do offer remedial suggestions for the future  after further research to substantiate a link between business travel and obesity and other chronic disease health outcomes.  A simple start they note is by way of "workplace interventions" which could include employee education programs and strategies to improve diet and activity while traveling.

Many hotels have been doing their bit to combat obesity stemming from long periods of inactivity brought on by travel. Late last year the Boston Globe ran a story headlined "Hotels Get Healthy" listing top ten trends in that area. These include 24 hour gyms, "express" spa treatments for guests, hypoallergenic rooms and even free bicycles. An area that could be improved upon is mattresses made from non-toxic materials as is the case with an albeit expensive option offered by Essentia mattresses of Canada. Reworking the "free" breakfast available in many hotels to offer healthier choices  is another.  Other (mildly controversial) suggestions including offering offering bonus reimbursement for employees who seek out healthy food on the road. More global outreachs like European Obesity Day set for May 21st are also helpful.

While travel providers need to be on the alert to innovations and trends in the area the onus on minimizing if not averting negative health consequences from travel has to be on the individual as the (very) old adage notes "you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink it".



Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.