Ga. Commute Can Have Deadly Effect On Health, Study Finds

Alison Guillory / WABE

The Atlanta area does not have the best public transportation options, so many residents face long, solitary drives to work.

A new study finds this may be having a deadly effect on our health.

The study, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, found that Georgia has 5,600 excessive deaths each year.

By comparing the healthiest counties in the state to the least healthy, researchers found the top health factors of excessive death were poverty, housing inequality, not having health insurance, smoking and obesity.

In Georgia, another negative health factor was long commutes. 

In many Atlanta area counties, more than 50 percent of residents spend an hour driving alone each day. The national median is 29 percent. 

“If you are sitting in your car, and particularly sitting in your car alone for long periods of time, it’s going to cost you,” said Dr. Julie Willems ven Dyk, one of the report’s authors and co-director of the County Health Rankings program. “Being in contact with people we feel emotionally connected to is important to health, and long commutes alone do have a negative effect on health.”

Willem ven Dyk said that, in addition to social isolation, long commutes can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and more air pollution.

She said there were shorter commute times in smaller communities or areas with more comprehensive transit systems.

“While commute times themselves might not be shorter if you’re taking public transportation, the effects on the environment are less,” Willems ven Dyk said. “Many times people are able to do other work or relax while they’re riding a bus or a train so [they] are not stuck behind the wheel with nothing else to do.”

The worst offender for long commutes in Georgia is Paulding County, where more than 64 percent of residents spend at least an hour driving alone each day. 

The study also found that since 2003, health outcomes for urban counties have improved, while health outcomes in rural counties, particularly premature death rates, have gotten worse over the past decade.

Click here for a chart of health outcome comparisons in Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties.