Active Transportation Key to Fighting Obesity

Jim Richards. (Photo by Wade Payne of AP.)

Jim Richards. (Photo by Wade Payne of AP.)

Jim Richards of Knoxville, Tennessee, 51, attributes his 20-pound weight loss to commuting to work on bicycle. Richards commutes every day to work and back. That’s 40 minutes of exercise every day, before he even steps into a gym.

He’s one of the healthy success stories that can be tied to what’s referred to as active transportation: people who leave the car keys at home and commute to work by foot or pedal. Or maybe it’s just taking that quick trip to the grocery store on your bike instead behind the wheel.

There’s a new study that came up with results that aren’t exactly shocking: Countries that have the highest rate of citizens who walk, bike, or even use public transportation to get around town have the lowest rates of obesity.

“Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates,” authors David Bassett of the University of Tennessee and John Pucher of Rutgers University conclude.

The study shows that only 12 percent in the U.S. use active transportation. Nine percent of people walk, one percent ride a bike and two percent take a bus or train. It’s not surprising, I guess, that this would lead to up to a third of us who are obese.

In stark contrast, 67 percent of commuters in Latvia, 62 percent in Sweden and 52 percent in the Netherlands either walk, bike or use mass transit.

As for Mr. Richards from Knoxville, his employer has a great benefit for its employees: The country store-themed Mast General Stores pays Richards and his co-workers $4 a day to ride, walk or catch a bus rather drive than their car. It’s a nice little perk with a side benefit of improved health. Richards has said that his annual checkup revealed that his heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol are all down.

To read more on my views on urban planning and how it needs to keep physical fitness in mind, read City Planners Need to Step Up.

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