Duh! Obesity and Transportation are Linked

by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm

by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm

A recent study by the University of Tennessee’s Obesity Research Center documents the relationship between obesity rates and active transportation (i.e. biking, walking, and public transit.)

The study’s lead author, David Bassett, co-director of the Obesity Research Center and professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport and Leisure Studies, said more people are thinking about transportation issues to save gas and money. On top of that, Americans are obsessed with losing weight, and the latest statistics show about one in three U.S. adults are obese.

“Many people blame this on things like technology, TV, Internet and sedentary jobs, but what we found was that there are other industrialized nations who have similar, high standards of living, who do not suffer from obesity to nearly the same extent that the U.S. does,” he said. “I truly believe that the transportation modes in various countries are important in explaining international differences in obesity rates.”

This study’s results are just another justification for building more biking and walking infrastructure in Metro Detroit.

And it also supports the Safe Routes to School concept, especially given the amount of childhood obesity in Michigan.  In 2007, 12% of children in Michigan were obese (>20% overweight.)

Unfortunately many of those responsible for transportation decisions have little experience or background in health.  Improving community health is not on their radar.  But one thing road engineers are good are is understanding numbers — and this study provides them.

  • In 2000, Europeans walked an average of 239 miles per person per year.  Americans walked 88 miles. And while Europeans biked 118 miles per year on average, Americans rode only 25 miles.
  • In Atlanta, every hour per day spent driving was associated with a 6 percent increase in the likelihood of being obese.

One caveat is the results do not prove causality.  However, the authors note the results “suggest that active transportation could be one of the factors that explain international differences in obesity rates.”

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2 Responses to “Duh! Obesity and Transportation are Linked”

  1. mister g Says:

    correlation is not causation. The fact is, we are not any less active now then 50 years ago. Due to rising wealth and increasing technology we have more leasure time to engage in sports rather then toil away all day. A person can only alter their weight 10-20% with excersize/calorie intake, the rest is genetics. A better study would look at obesity variation within a region, the smaller the better. (County>state>country)

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    I couldn’t find information comparing physical activity levels. Do you know of a report on that? There’s been a significant obesity trend since at least 1985 and it’s well documented at this CDC site. I doubt those increases are due to genetic changes. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/maps/

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