Access to Public Transit Reduces Obesity

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.

Related Stories:

More Americans Ditching Cars for Public Transit

Why Do Conservatives Hate Public Transit?

Generation Y Driving Less and Sharing More

Photo Credit: Doug Letterman


Christopher M.
Christopher M.6 years ago

a community in north Alexandria, VA is very walkable. Bank, gym, and supermarket on S. Glebe Road. Organic market and H.R. Block on Mt. Vernon Ave. Metrobuses 10A, 10B, 10E, 23A, 23C, and DASH AT3 run through. Bike trail on the Four Mile Run. Hourly car rentals by Flexcar/Zipcar at Metro stations.

Springhill Lake in Greenbelt is near the Beltway Plaza Mall and Greenbelt Metro, too and it is also walkable.

Michael Kirkby
.6 years ago

I walk three miles to work every morning and take the subway at night. Some days I walk home. I don't own a car but if you're in the country you need one; at least try getting out for a walk or bike ride and enjoy the countryside.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Barbara Snowberger

I live in the "hills" n/e of Los Angeles. I'm retired. I'm disabled - can't walk far. The closest bus is nearly a mile, downhill. Bus prices in L.A. are becoming much higher - it seems the more people use them, and less money working people make, the more pricey they become. I can still drive, so I use my car... but I make up for the convenience by parking charges. Parking for medical appointments can run as much as $20 for more than an hour, and most medical facilities don't validate. There is no easy answer for Los Angeles. But the more bike routes the Mayor creates, the less we disabled can traverse for less money, and the more accidents are created because bike riders DON'T stop at signs or red lights... they just go on through, and they make it really dangerous for those of us who have no choice but to drive. Public transportation is OK for those who live in areas that have access, but with narrow streets in my area, there's no way buses can get here.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Most of US has no public transit- just the reverse in Europe, Japan and civilized world.

Robert D.
Robert Dickinson6 years ago

All mass transit stations should have bike paths and sidewalks out to a minimum radius of One mile plus secure bike parking. Often millions are spent on parking but there is no place to safely bike or walk to station.

Heather M
Heather Marv6 years ago

Also if there were more bike tracks all over the World people would use them more so, saving the environment and helping their health too. A win win solution.

Phil V.
Phil V.6 years ago

That's a really neat article. With that said, can it be explained why New York City, which has over 30% of its residents using public transit ( also has over 23% of its residents considered to be obese? (

See, I'm not buying into it. I have a friend who hikes almost daily, yet weighs almost 400 pounds. People are obese for many different reasons, people are average and thin for the same, and anyone who thinks that calories in should = calories out to maintain health has their head in the sand (or somewhere else).

Michelle A.
Michelle A6 years ago

This is a good article. But, if my taking public transportation for the last 10 years or more would mean that it would help me lose weight, I'd be a beanpole now. And if taking public transportation really means that it reduces weight, I would not see so many overweight people on the buses, subway cars, and light rails.

I'm sure though, that not having a car. which means walking more (when I can in spite of my disabilities) has helped me control my weight. Yet, there are other factors in this equation. jmho

Laurie D.
Laurie D6 years ago

How fun I get to brag a bit. When I moved back to Albuquerque from Anchorage, I brought no vehicle. Now I either walk or ride the bus. Though we too don't have a great bus system, if you don't have a choice, you make it work for you!