Obesity and the Automobile

A new study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health titled, Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia, found that “active transportation” is inversely related to obesity. In other words, countries in which walking and cycling are common forms of transportation have significantly lower rates of obesity than countries where the automobile dominates. Consider these figures:

  • United States: 12 percent use active transportation and 33 percent are obese
  • Australia: 14 percent use active transportation and 21 percent are obese
  • Canada: 19 percent use active transportation and 23 percent are obese
  • Netherlands: 52 percent use active transportation and 11 percent are obese
  • Sweden: 62 percent use active transportation and 9 percent are obese
  • Latvia: 67 percent use active transportation and 14 percent are obese

Of course, many factors contribute to obesity, and the study doesn’t conclusively prove that “active transportation” reduces obesity, though it’s intuitively clear that higher activity levels coincide with improved health. And in the case of cycling, besides the health benefits, we also get the environmental benefits that come with reduced automobile use.

20 Responses to “Obesity and the Automobile”

  • Greg says:

    I agree that a healthy lifestyle is a component to obesity – it just makes common sense. But let’s not forget that the “obesity epidemic” is spilling over to nations that are not necessarily decreasing their amount of active transportation, like the UK and Japan. I think whatever the problem may be just hits countries with less active transportation harder.

    Recent studies have shown some seven genes that control appetite. The footnote to these, of course, is that these genes have been present since… well, about forever. So even though people who have all of them active may tend to be overweight, even this does not account for the upswing in obesity. My point being that these variables hold fairly constant, and yet obesity is becoming more prevalent.

  • Dale says:

    Only a fool could NOT see that Humans, due to all the technology and “labor saving” machinery and devices, are LESS active than ever in our known history. Add to this a decline in our demand for QUALITY, (in just about everything, including our nutrition, our personal integrity and SELF-DISCIPLINE), and the “MYSTERY” is solved.

    That’s what we have a BRAIN for – to figure out what is healthy and what’s not, (which the Human race HAS

    Why is it sooo politically incorrect to ADMIT and accept the FACT that MOST fat folks are just plain lazy when it comes to acting in their own best interests?

  • Joe says:

    @ Dale: I take great offence to that statement that ‘MOST fat folks are just plain lazy’. Is this the voice of experience Dale? Speaking for myself, yes I am overweight and attempting to do something about it by getting on my bike. However, as the medical community has established, obesity more often than not is a result of a disease. It is not true or kind to charactarize those with a weight problem as lazy.

    Alan: Thank you for all the useful information you dig up on a daily basis. It helps us commuting neophytes gain even more satisfaction out of doing what we can to help our own health and those around us.

  • Jonathan says:

    I am a physician personally involved with the care of those undergoing gastric bypass surgery–this is a very complicated subject. Eat more than you need for fuel, you gain weight. Genetics plays a role, without question, but in my opinion, one’s diet, physical activity, surrounding peer group, emotional coping skill set, etc plays a greater cumulative role.

    We have to try to stay positive, and continue to set a good example by leading healthy, active lifestyles.

  • cafn8 says:

    I’ll admit it- I enjoy eating. I enjoy it a lot. Sometimes I enjoy eating a lot. I’ll also admit that I really like fatty foods. Everything is better deep fried. I believe that I am not alone in feeling this way. I don’t like going to the gym. Driving to a place to expend calories on a machine seems pointless. Given my lack of willpower where food is concerned, and my lack of interest in exercise for its own sake, the only way I have been able to lose weight in the past was by bicycling. Since it is enjoyable, it doesn’t seem like work, so I fool myself into wanting to do it. This year I lost 25 pounds between April and October by eating whatever I wanted and riding as much as as I wanted (well, actually if I didn’t have to stop biking when I got to work I probably would have done much more riding.) Well’ that’s my ramble. Take it for what it’s worth.

  • Dale says:

    “To” Joe = I didn’t say “all”, I said “most”. By “doing something about it” you are NOT being “lazy”. But, how did you get to be “overweight” in the first place?

    IF there is “more often than not a disease” related to obesity, the “disease”, (more often than not), is laziness. Even Dr. Johnathan just said as much.

    To all who are “doing something about it”, you are to be commended.
    Just like I’ve always said about Junkies, “Any character can get on the street, but it takes REAL CHARACTER to get off.” Also like the subject of “abortion” = It’s a “choice” one would NOT have to be making IF one had been choosing wisely to start with.

    As for obesity, “choose” to be in charge of your own Life. Don’t be allowing TV advertisers and fast food giants to do your choosing (or thinking) for you. Educate yourself on nutrition, for your own sake. Then grow a pair, step up, and BE IN CHARGE of your own LIFE.

    Why do I have to be having this conversation with ADULTS? :- ) :- ) :- )

  • Alan says:

    LFoaB is inspirational in this regard…

    Large Fella on a Bike

  • Joe says:

    I know I should just let this drop but as stated by Jonathan this is a very complicated subject of which Dale is making almost trivial by saying that most have a choice. While in many cases this may be true, the underlying cause in most situations may be as simple as depression. As cafn8 stated, eating is enjoyable, and in many peoples lives this may be the ONLY enjoyable thing. Granted they SHOULD seek treatment of some kind and do something about it, but generally it is not that simple. Is some peoples case, such as my wife’s, there is a medical reason for their weight gain. Is that an indication of a flawed character? I KNOW what you are saying Dale, and for the most part I agree. But to lump a group of people together because of their ‘condition’ is wrong, just like saying all cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road because one person saw a weekend warrior ride through a stop sign.

    Stepping off the soap box now.

  • Donald Moore says:

    When you want to loose wight, go on a diet (calories = 13 X desired weight).
    When you want to gain the weight back go off the deit ( weight = 13 X callories).
    Both have worked for me every time!

  • Cycledad says:

    I think there is a slight shade of grey in this discussion. The current obesity epidemic is hitting people before they hit adult ages. ie they are children, consequently the responsibility for this falls to the parents. Once they are adult they can take the decision to do something about it, but they will have been bought up with “obesogenic” habits. Our environment is “obesogenic” but less so in countries with active transport habits.

    Obviously adults have to do something about their own weight, but do we have an obligation to do our society to lessen its “obesogenicity” .

  • Scott Wayland says:

    An interesting discussion. I’m with Cycledad on the importance of getting to the children. Once people become obese, its VERY hard to get back to fighting trim. It can be done, as the Large Fella on a Bike shows, but one can’t be lazy, which is a huge component of the equation. But the causes of laziness are where things get complex: depression, inertia, peer groups, etc.

    My wife is a nutrition counselor, and besides dealing with people who have diseases, she, of course, works with folks who want to lose weight. Getting people to change their habits (me included) is extremely difficult. Try to get me to stop drinking coffee and you’ll leave on a gurney! :) My wife gets some compliance with eating habits, but getting people to exercise–REALLY exercise– is another order of magnitude difficult. When people are out of shape, they can’t imagine that the sweat and strain can feel good, that their minds and bodies rejoice in working hard. Let’s face it: Exercise done properly involves some discomfort. We here who are into it don’t give it a second thought. In fact, we LIKE it.

    Imagine being told you needed, say, to eat a particular kind of food, but you had to take a slap across the face each time you sat down. A crude analogy but not far off the mark. Exercising for the obese is wicked tough work. I think some professional guidance can often be of help. The key is starting out nice and easy, but one can’t stay there. In general, there has been a “dumbing down” of physical education in the USA with ideas like a moderate 20 min. walk three times a week is sufficient. It isn’t. You don’t need to train like an Olympian, but you need to get out there and strain a bit, pounding heart, heaving lungs work.

    We know this is true because people do it. They succeed at losing the weight, and if they stick with good foods and lots of exercise, they get strong, keep the weight off. But tthey have to be dedicated–NOT lazy. Some people never find the motivation. Some people are never able to quit smoking either. We need to be kind and understanding of our big brothers and sisters. Set a good example. For those of us in the Land of the Fit, it is hard to imagine what it’s like to have trouble walking up a hill. Read Plato’s “Myth of the Cave” for an excellent allegory on this subject.

    A couple of books that I really like:

    Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

    Fatland by Greg Critzer



  • Cycledad says:

    hi Scott,

    Small world my wifes a paediatric dietitian!

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Hey, Cycledad: Well, no escaping good food in our respective houses, eh?


  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    Why do I have to be having this conversation with ADULTS? :- ) :- ) :- )

    maybe because you are not behaving like an adult and need to be taught a lesson? your country (i am puertorican) has a long history of prejudice, and it is culturally so easy for you to blame people for problems that they did not bring upon themselves. really, who wants to be obese, in this day and age where beauty means anorexic hollywood stars? obesity is a disease, complicated by the fact that its causes are mainly psychological, but also environmental, what with all those fast food joints and the marketing and pr machine that makes them look good. i am sure you do not go around blaming unknown junkies in your ‘hood for their addiction, much less making fun of them and calling them lazy and what not, and you do not do that simply because you fear them, and the world they live in. oh, but it is so sweet and easy, isn’t it, to call us (yes, i am obese) anything you like because we don’t scare you, we look so easy going and always smiling, and in the remote event you make one of us mad you know you will outrun any of us. so, for once, let’s stop calling names and let the pros that really understand the problem do the talking.

  • Dale says:

    Well Roberto, I am a “Pro”: And I do understand the problem: And I do know what I’m talking about because, as a pro, I’ve researched the many aspects of the subject and conducted thousands of clinical and independent case studies.

    I’m not just trying to be cruel or insensitive, I’m merely stating the facts which are based on real and legitimate study after study – that’s been conducted by impartial research – not drug companies or quacks trying to sell something.

    One more time = I said “MOST”. I did NOT say “all”. There are physical reasons that cause obesity in a VERY FEW cases

    Is it unhealthy? YES. Is it a disease? Yes, a diss-ease. Is it psychological? All of Life is psychological. Is it impossible to prevent? NO. Is it impossible to correct? NO.

    Can it be avoided or corrected by making lame excuses? – – – – NO
    Can it be avoided or corrected by whining & sniveling? – – – – NO.
    Can it be avoided or corrected by TAKING CHARGE of your own Life – no cop outs and NO EXCUSES? – – – – – YES.

    Honestly, Roberto, “MOST” (not all) cases of obesity are due to personal weakness and laziness – and you and they can sputter all you want to but that’s what it boils down to. I wish it weren’t so, but as embarrassing as it is for all who whine and make excuses, just because they don’t have the nads to handle their own business, the legitimate studies bear it out.

    Now I’m done here. How many more incensed malcontents do you suppose will weigh in here saying, “But, but, but, we can’t be expected to act responsibly, for our own good health and in our own best interest.”?????? How very tiring and tedious this has become. Grow up, not out.

  • Joe says:

    Dale please post the studies you reference. I would love to see the data. Thanks.

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    as a pro, if you really are one, you suck. every word you write reeks of bigotry. i’m not wasting more time on you.

  • Alan says:


    Can we lighten up on the personal attacks please? (All parties)


  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    if i were the administrator of this blog, i would have cut dale short as soon as he started calling people lazy. his prejudiced stand was so obvious from the beginning.

  • Alan says:

    We’re done. Comments closed on this post.

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