Several findings about the relationship between obesity, the automobile, and the bicycle …..
1) As Americans have been getting obese, so have automobiles.
Interesting that as we as a nation are getting bigger, our automobiles are keeping right up with us …
Example: the first VW Golf (aka Jetta and Rabbit) weighed in at approximately 1808 lbs, but the Mk2 version (built until 1991) added another 265 pounds. Later versions such as the MK4 (2005) had increased weight to 2771 lbs, while the latest version, the Mk6 (2009) weighs in at 2802 lbs. That’s almost 1,000 lbs of gain, or a 64% weight gain.
Another example: The first Ford Escort (1967) weighed in at 1640 lbs. The 1980 Escort weighed in at 1830 lbs. The 1992 version (last to be called Escort, next generation called the Focus) weighed in at 2,222lbs. The nextgen Escort/Focus for 2010 — 2709 lbs in it’s lightest form.
What are the reasons for the weight gain? I can think of a few reasons (e.g. bigger engines, added refinements) but perhaps it’s also because the average American is getting bigger too — it’s easier for bigger Americans to get in and out of bigger cars …………
2) The more we weigh, the more we pay (in gasoline)
A 2009 research paper (here) examined the link between the prevalence of obesity and vehicle demand in the United States. Exploring annual sales data of new passenger vehicles at the model level in 48 U.S. counties from 1999 to 2005, they found that a 10 percentage point increase in the rate of overweight and obesity reduces the average MPG of new vehicles demanded by 2.5 percent: an effect that requires a 30 cent increase in gasoline prices to counteract.
3) In China, as automobile ownership increases, so does obesity.
This older (2002) article took advantage of looking at China’s fast-growing automobile ownership, where it was replacing traditional methods of transportation (walking, cycling). It showed the odds were 80% higher for the man or women who owned a car to be obese vs. someone who did not own a car.
Of course, it’s not exclusively the automobile’s fault that we are so overweight. Many studies point to our cost of food being so cheap, the types of high-fat, high-caloric foods now readily available (many researchers believe that it’s actually cheaper, in our fast-food society, to eat a high-fat, high-calorie diet than it is to stay slim), and the boom in passive activity choices (watching TV, playing video games, Internet surfing) — all are contributors.
4) Those who walk and bicycle more aren’t as fat (Duh!!)
A 2008 study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health was designed to examine the relationship between active transportation (defined as the percentage of trips taken by walking, bicycling, and public transit) and obesity rates. Walking and bicycling are far more common in European countries than in the United States, Australia, and Canada. What they found should not be surprising to anyone: active transportation is inversely related to obesity in these countries. Although the results do not prove causality (cause and effect) , they suggest that active transportation could be one of the factors that explain international differences in obesity rates.