Need another reason to ditch the car? A study published last year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that those living close to public transportation have a greater chance of reducing obesity. While we all know that staying physically fit and active is an important component of an overall enhanced quality of life and lifespan, this finding is particularly interesting in that it suggests that simply getting around your city using public transit could be sufficient exercise in itself.
Researchers decided to focus on Charlotte, North Carolina’s relatively new light rail system. In order to avoid selection bias, researchers focused only on the Lynx rail system and narrowed their subject pool to only those living along the route both before and after light rail was constructed. By doing so, researchers were hoping to avoid classic bias situations, including counting those who are already active or who may seek out transit-accessible neighborhoods given their pre-existing lifestyle.
The results speak for themselves. Weighted to control for age, education, distance to work, gender, neighborhood features and other factors, light rail riders’ Body Mass Index (BMI) dropped by about 1.18 points compared to those who didn’t ride the system. Light rail riders were also a whopping 81 percent less likely to become obese over time.
This is impressive and encouraging data, especially when considering broader health and urban transportation policy. Never mind the significant environmental benefits of taking all of those cars off the road and the pure financial savings to each transit rider. Transit riders, according to the American Public Transportation Association, save on average upwards of $9,000 a year — and this is based on 2010 data when gas prices where cheaper than today.
In many ways, Americans are changing their opinion of public transportation for the better and cities like Charlotte, which has a relatively new public transit system, illustrate just that. For decades, public transportation in the U.S. was viewed as dirty or a hassle, particularly because the car and subsequent suburban sprawl took over domestic urban design, leaving city centers and related transportation networks to rot.
Today, many cities in the United States are getting up to speed with what many international cities have known all along: a good, comprehensive and reliable public transportation system not only increases citizen health and improves the environment, but brings in local business and fosters urban development and renewal. With the revival of the city comes the push for greater public transit access. So next time you’re downtown, hop on the train, catch the next bus, or partake in the growing network of bike share programs. It’s better for the Earth, your wallet and your health.
Photo Credit: Doug Letterman