Cars make you fat. That's more or less the message noted researcher John Pucher has tirelessly delivered, making the case for cycling and walking - "active transportation" - as a way for cities to deal with creeping obesity rates and climbing health costs. Now, in a new analysis of U.S., European, and Australian cities, Pucher and his colleagues press the point home even a little further by showing that cities with the highest percentage of trips by foot and by bike have the lowest levels of obese (and even diabetic) adults.
"Among the 14 countries in our international comparison, those with higher levels of walking and cycling tended to have lower levels of adult obesity, whether self reported or clinically measured." - John Pucher, PhD, Ralph Buehler, PhD, David R. Bassett, PhD, and Andrew L. Dannenberg, MD, MPH
The same relationship held true in the U.S.
In our comparison of all 50 US states and 47 of the largest 50 US cities, we found that higher rates of walking and cycling to work were associated with a higher percentage of adults who achieved recommended levels of physical activity, a lower percentage of adults with obesity, and a lower percentage of adults with diabetes.
Pucher and his colleagues note that the results of their study are not enough to prove active transportation can cause improved health, but should be viewed along with the other evidence piling up that show the health benefits of active travel.
This may all seem somewhat self evident, and yet, the bicycle is not viewed by the majority of Americans as a transportation tool. This is due to decades of considering the cycling as a pastime or a sport, and not as the handy (and healthier) city transportation device it can truly be.
Pucher et al do say that encouraging both walking and cycling will require a bigger build out of the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure than has thus far occurred in the U.S., as well as further restrictions on car use and other traffic calming measures.
While that is already happening in some cities, most notably New York, there are still giant hurdles, including the fact that transportation planners depend on federal money which is still skewed towards car-based infrastructure projects, and inexpensive but vital bike and ped projects are unable to be financed from federal pots.