The Bus Conductors’ Secret

All this talk about organized youth sports has been exhilarating, but as a specific issue, it really only affects a very small percentage of children and youth. What seems to be hurting a lot of people is their lack of anywhere near enough movement in general. To fill that need, almost anything counts. Walking against gravity counts. Remember the excellent results obtained by Alasdair Wilkins with his uphill treadmill?

Way back in 1953, before a lot of us were even born, epidemiologist Dr. Jerry Morris felt the itch of curiosity. He was looking at the difference between two kinds of employees who shared identical work conditions. They both inhaled automobile exhaust all day, and dealt with noise and passenger complaints and strange germs and weather, and were in the same traffic accidents.

So, why did the bus drivers get twice as much heart disease as the bus conductors? Because the drivers sat, while the conductors constantly went up and down in different parts of the bus. The researcher calculated that the average conductor climbed 500 steps per shift.

Journalist and author Peter Walker recently commented for The Guardian,

It’s no coincidence that Morris’s discovery was about movement at work. The current inactivity crisis hasn’t come about because of a sudden outbreak of laziness; it’s because of the decline in “incidental activity” — movement as part of your everyday life, from manual work to chores, or travel on foot or bike.

Walker is no fan of the built environment, which overwhelmingly preferences vehicles over pedestrians. The psychological environment is not so great either. People are blamed and shamed for not walking or stair-climbing their way to health, when…

[…] as with the parallel, but separate, crisis of obesity — it cannot be seen outside the context of the lived-in environment.

Frequent moderate-to-brisk exercise used to be intrinsic to almost everyone’s life, regardless of sex or class. Workers burned calories at their jobs, while aristocrats played polo and other vigorous sports. Now, Walker says, exercise “has to take place in ‘free time,’ carved out from our busy lives.”

Someone might object, “But surely during this pandemic, with so many people unemployed, time is not of the essence!” That is true for people who have space and minimal responsibilities, along with other amenities. Still, some live in cramped conditions with no way to get some vigorous motion under their belt, indoors or out. Multiple factors are in play.

There is always a dissenting voice

Back in Dr. Morris’s day and since, his bus employee theory has been questioned. One critic proposed that probably fitter candidates tended to apply for the conductor positions in the first place. A counter-argument is, sure, but there might be a reason why those individuals were more fit on application day — because they routinely did things like climb the stairs rather than take the elevator.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Inactivity is an ongoing pandemic’: the life-saving impact of moving your body,”, 02/06/21
Image by Martin Arrand//Public Domain

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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