Monday, December 7, 2009

More Public Transportation, Less Obesity

The problem of obesity is known to be at an all-time high in the United States, with an ever-increasing number of young people being found to either be obese or be at risk of it. This is, of course, a bit of a severe problem, and the federal government has attempted to take numerous steps to try and fix the problem. However, recent research has also started to delve into what might be the cause for these problems. According to a study that looked into the frequency of obesity in various countries, it seems that there may be a connection between walking, biking, and public transportation and the frequency of obesity in people.

The study has found that countries where walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work, shopping, or school have largely lower frequencies of obesity in the general population. The study found that the higher the rate of use for public transportation and methods such as bicycles or walking, the lower the recorded instances of obesity. It was also noted that Americans, who largely prefer to travel by car from one location to another, have the highest obesity rates in the world, and are also the people least likely to walk, cycle, or take mass transit.

An estimated 12% of all people use active transportation in the United States, with 9% of that number walking, 1% riding bikes, and 2% taking a bus or train. As for the rest of the population, the car is found to be the favored means of getting around – incidentally, a third of that segment of the population have been found to be obese. This is in comparison to the 67% of commuters in Latvia, 52% of the population that prefers to walk in the Netherlands, and 62% of Swedes who walk, bike, or use mass transit. The obesity rate for Latvia is at 14%, while the Netherlands has it at 11% - significantly lower than for the US.

Part of the reason for this was found to be the structure of most European cities. The roads tended to be narrower and allowed less traffic flow, discouraging people from using cars. In contrast, US areas have much wider roads to allow for more vehicles to pass, and to speed up the flow of traffic. European cities, therefore, are structured to discourage too many people from driving cars, while American cities are designed to accommodate large numbers of vehicles on the road at once.

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