We all knew that, but this is a randomized study.
We’ve written dozens of posts on Star Wheeler about how good active transportation is for you and your life, promoting all kinds of car accessories, parts and used cars, but we also care for environment and well being of all humans. So we encourage our writers to write on topics which might not agree with our promotions but help a better and bigger cause.
How bad driving is, showing research from John Pucher in 2009.
Yet it’s hard to say what came first – the physically safe individual who loves cycling or the sedentary individual who prefers driving. And, as Alex Hutchinson reports in the Globe and Mail, it’s “hard to shake off the nagging suspicion that people who prefer to ride to work can be different from those who drive in hard-to-quantify ways that often affect their safety through other pathways.”
But we’ve been debating for years about this. Is it the urban design and sprawl that makes us fat or is it the car? Or, as the economist Ryan Avent wondered, do people choose where they live by themselves?
But the bottom line is that there is a very strong correlation between living in sprawl and being obese. And while it isn’t necessarily the case that sprawl makes people fat, it is the case that obese people move to the ‘burbs because it’s so easy to be fat there, what with the not having to walk and the many drive-through restaurants and so on.
Now Hutchinson points to a very interesting study, titled Physical activity and weight following car ownership in Beijing, China: quasi-experimental cross sectional research, which seems to explain the issue. This is randomized, answering the problem of self-selection.
The number of new car permits issued in Beijing since 2011 has been limited to reduce congestion, with a lottery being held each month. Because winning the lottery is totally random, the researchers have been able to find out over five years what happened to winners and losers. Those are not urban or suburban, just ordinary citizens living in Beijing, some fortunate at lotteries and some not.
The winners walked or biked even less than you would expect, 42 per cent less after five years, taking 24.18 minutes less per day. The weight piled on over five years, an average of 5.2 kg for those under the age of 40 and 10.34 for those over the age of 50.
Hutchinson writes, “In Anderson’s Beijing cohort, the randomized assignment of cars finally shows that it’s the car itself, not simply the type of person who wants a car, that influences behavior and ultimately safety.”
He spoke to Michael Anderson the researcher who concludes:
“The public-health impacts of automobile travel are really important,” he says. “While cars have saved trillions of hours of travel time globally, they’ve also likely shortened lifespans by trillions of hours in aggregate via traffic accidents, pollution and obesity-related disease.”
Cyclists in Beijing/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
We like to speak about how cars are a public safety issue because of the 40,000 people killed by vehicles every year in the US, but they are obviously dangerous even if you just sit in them. Maybe rather than constructing more roads to accommodate more vehicles, we can do what we can to get people out of them.
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