Does Driving Cause Obesity?

People are significantly fatter in countries, states, and cities where car use is more common. Mass transit use, on the other hand, is correlated with lower obesity. But there has been scant evidence that public transportation actually causes widespread weight loss — until now. A study of residents in Charlotte, N.C., found that users of the city’s new light rail system were 81 percent less likely to become obese, and reduced their Body Mass Index by an average 1.18 points — the equivalent of 6.45 pounds for a person 5’5″ tall. The study appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. [%comments]

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  1. mike d. says:

    While I was in college in the 90′s I did two stints in S. Korea teaching English. I took public transportation everywhere, mostly the subway, and each time I lost about 15 lbs within the first month. It forces you to do a lot of walking, to get between the subway station or bus stop and your origin or destination. And you walk quite a ways on transfers between subway lines as well.

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  2. MRB says:

    “These findings suggest that improving neighborhood environments and increasing the public’s use of LRT systems could improve health outcomes and potentially impact millions of individuals”

    What they found is that people who live near the light rail stations also live near other things – stores, jobs, etc. they’re walking more because they have more destinations that are more quickly/conveniently/cheaply reached that way than by auto. I’d bet they’d find similar results looking at LRT systems that were/are conceived but not built.

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  3. Jim says:

    I believe this as I grew up in a very rural part of Indiana where everything (gas/food/clothing) was 10 miles+ away so you just drive everywhere because you can’t walk to it. I now work in downtown Chicago and you have to walk everywhere. Even going out for fast food requires 2-3block walk from the office. Urban living has most things within walking distance of public trans, and driving is expensive and doesn’t save time.

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  4. Brett says:

    Great. It was already hard enough to keep mass transit away (which serves only a small percentage of the population) as it was. Throw this little finding in the mix and politicians will be adding the health ‘benefit’ into the argument.

    If only the government would leave both my transportation choices and my weight alone… but then, I must be dreaming if I think that’s an option.

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  5. jen says:

    I live about 30 miles from Chicago, and work in the city. I take public transportation to work (involves a 5 mile drive, a 45 minute train ride and a mile walk to my office). However, I’ve actually GAINED weight since I moved from the city. I don’t think its mass transit that makes us slimmer. Its the length of commute that will drive up obesity. If you know you are going to be commuting for 1.5 – 2 hours, you tend to snack more. And with train stations loaded with greasy traps of un-healthy food options, that doesn’t help the situation. However, if I worked 10 miles from home, and my commute was only 30 minutes, I could hold off knowing I’d be home at a reasonable dinner time.

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  6. Kevin says:

    Makes sense to me. If you live somewhere that doesn’t have mass transit, chances are you drive EVERYWHERE. If you have mass transit, you walk from home to the bus/train, then to your destination. And your local store is probably closer to home, so you are more likely to walk places in your everyday life.

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  7. DrS says:

    Brett,
    if you wanted the government to stay out of your transportation choices, you wouldn’t want them to build any roads, either.

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  8. kevin says:

    @jen… one data point doesn’t really tell us much.

    you may tend to snack more, and you may tend to gain weight, but the trend isn’t about you… it is about users of light rail in Charlotte, NC.

    you might find someone who commutes by car for long periods snacks more – or goes by a fast food joint that wouldn’t be easy if they rode a train or bus.

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