Fewer Cars in Your Town Means Healthier Residents

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

A study out of the University of Tennessee has concluded that communities with more walkers and cyclists are healthier than those where people must rely on cars to get around. While that seems obvious enough, it doesn’t mean it has to be this way, and it’s important to understand why.

It was published in the “American Journal of Public Health” and drew collaborators from the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers analyzed city- and state-level data from across the United States, as well as international data from 15 countries, to study the relationship between “active travel” (bicycling or walking) and physical activity, obesity and diabetes.

The results showed that more than half of the differences in obesity rates is linked to walking and cycling rates. In addition, about 30% of the difference in obesity rates among states and cities is linked to walking and cycling rates. Clearly, how you decide to facilitate transportation is vitally important to your health.

This study is part of the mounting evidence that active travel has significant health benefits. What it also does is reinforce the need for American cities to encourage more walking and cycling. That, of course, takes safe, convenient and attractive things such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bike paths and lanes, and intersection modifications that protect pedestrians and cyclists.

This is a very, very big issue and you can expect it to grow in significance. A growing body of evidence suggests that differences in the built environment for physical activity influence the likelihood that people will use active transport for their daily travel. People who live in areas that are more conducive to walking and cycling are more likely to engage in these forms of active transport.

At the moment, many European countries have high rates of walking and cycling and less obesity than Australia, the U.S. and Canada, which depend on the car. In the U.S., when comparing all 50 states and 47 of the 50 largest American cities, the study found that higher rates of walking and cycling led to a higher percentage of adults who achieved recommended levels of physical activity, a lower percentage of adults who are obese, and a lower percentage of adults with diabetes.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million adults are obese, putting them at increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, gout, gallstones, fatty liver, and some cancers. How you decide to run your life, transportation included, has major impacts on your health.