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]

mike d.

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.


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


@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.


For me there was a definite link between car and obesity. I live in car optional New York City. When I got a car I gained a good deal of weight. When I got rid of my car I lost the weight without too much difficulty. (Even so it is much easier to put on it on than take it off.)

Noticing this weight change and finally making the connection to the car not too long ago, I tried to figure out what I was doing differently when I had a car. I discovered that not only did I walk less when I had a car, but I carried less too. Without a car I carry heavy bags home from stores and from work, regularly walking several blocks with 20 pounds of stuff makes a big difference.

Justin James

Brett (#4) -

I'll ask the government to stop worrying about your weight when I don't have to pay Medicare to give you dialysis when you are older, and I'll ask the government to not worry about your transportation when I don't have to breath the exhaust from your car, or pay for wars to secure the oil supply that powers it.

In other words, when your habits stop affecting me, it is no longer a concern of the government's!




I snack more because my commute is longer. The mile walk to the train station? It includes all your favorite fast food joints as it is a walk through the Loop. The train station? Fast Food Nation. Even if I avoid all that, I am usually famished by the time I get home. And yes, one can bring a healthy snack for the train (as I've come to do), but its knowing that I leave the office at 5:10pm, but get home at 7pm - and will quickly try to throw together a healthy meal, but in reality, its easier to pick up something on the drive home from the train station.


Mass transit is only really in urban areas.
Obesity is more prevalent in rural areas.
Mass transit isn't going to help curb it.


I worked in Manhattan for 20 years and had a brisk one mile walk twice a day from Port Authority to my office. Took a job in suburban NJ and walked a couple hundred feet from parking lot to office. I gained 10 pounds in 2 months. In addition, the time of my commute was about the same for both, about 1:15 - 1:30 each way. But I exchanged a usually relaxing bus ride where I could read and snooze for bumper to bumper traffic at 70 mph on Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike. The stress and exhaustion factors wore me down until I relocated closer to work.


I wonder if anyone has looked at the correlation of weight gain/loss with the likelihood of getting a seat?

I was definitely thinner when I had to take the subway at rush hour and stand vs now where I'm on MetroNorth and almost always get a seat.

Ian Kemmish

The next question is: what's different between people who drive and people who use public transport? A supplementary question is: what's changed for people who drive, bearing in mind that people drove long before the obesity epidemic started?

One thing, perhaps, is that car parks are closer together than stations, and in particular with the rise in out-of-town shopping, the car parks are within a few yards of the final destination. Perhaps it's really a question of town planning, and having shops in the town centre and not many car parks as in the "good old days" was better for us.

Then again, people who think better town planning is a good way to improve the human condition have a habit of being mistaken.....

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Ironically many people drive 10 miles each way to their Health Club/ Gym so they could workout for 20 minutes. And they still fail to lose any weight.

If they would walk 10 miles a day, they could save on fuel costs and the health club fees, and lose some substantial weight......I GUARANTEE OR DOUBLE YOUR MONEY BACK!


@Brett: What Justin James said! If you so hate its interference, would you like the government to stop subsidizing your roads and the food you eat? (Actually, not a bad idea to lose some of those harmful food subsidies)


jen - it's not the city side that is your problem. How much do you walk when you are back in the burbs vs when you were living in Lincoln Park or whatever?

Quick answer to that weight issue - get a bike and ride to the train station. lbs will melt away.


Makes sense to me, but in practice, I'm not sure how many people will go for it.

A few stops were removed on my regular bus route last month (to speed up the trips). More than a few riders have complained to the bus drivers about how far they have to walk now. Each one could use the exercise...


Makes sense to me.

On top of all the extra walking, is the severely reduced likelihood that you will have a fast food drive through experience :)