Study finds use of public transportation lowers community obesity rate

By The Daily Illini staff report

Using public transportation can come with several benefits, such as getting a little exercise, saving money on gas and helping the environment. Additionally, researchers at the University have found that an increase in the use of public transit would also result in a lower obesity rate in the community.

Douglas King, senior lecturer of industrial and enterprise systems engineering, and co-author of a study, “Is promoting public transit an effective intervention for obesity?” worked to  analyze health, transportation and census data from 227 counties across 45 states between 2001 and 2009, when rail and bus were the most popular forms of transportation in the U.S.

The results of the study suggest that increasing frequent public transit usage in a county has a statistically significant impact on the county’s obesity rate, King said in an email.

“Increasing the percentage of the county population that frequently rides public transit by one percentage point reduces the county obesity rate by 0.473 percentage points,” he said.

He said the study does show that obesity rates decrease, but the specific cause of the decrease is not revealed in the study.

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“Having said that, we began this study with the idea that riding public transit rather than driving can increase a person’s physical activity – for example, by walking from their home to their bus stop,” he said.

To account for differences in economic and lifestyle factors, the researchers considered factors such as exercise, household income, health care coverage and public transit funding.

Sheldon H. Jacobson, professor of computer science and co-author of the study, has worked with King before in conducting a similar study. The results of their new analysis are consistent with the previous.

Both the new and old studies conclude that increasing transit usage can reduce the obesity rate of an overall county.

The analysis of the study examined counties as a whole, so it is unclear what the implications for an individual person are, King said.

“While the results indicate that increasing the proportion of frequent transit users at the county level tends to reduce the obesity rate in that county, it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently,” he said.

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