Lose weight by driving less?

Creating more options to driving--and encouraging people to use them--turns out to be one of the best ways to help Americans improve their health and fitness.  This recent research study has an interesting take on the issue:

A new study by University of Illinois researchers, led by computer science and mathematics professor Sheldon H. Jacobson, suggests that both daily automobile travel and calories consumed are related to body weight, and reducing either one, even by a small amount, correlates with a reduction in body mass index (BMI). 

Car or bike--which to take today? [Photo: Nice Old Car by gunnsteinlye on FlickR, http://www.flickr.com/photos/gunnsteinlye/6071009266/]
Car or bike--which to take today? [Photo: Nice Old Car by gunnsteinlye on FlickR, http://www.flickr.com/photos/gunnsteinlye/6071009266/]

"We're saying that making small changes in travel or diet choices may lead to comparable obesity reduction, which implies that travel-based interventions may be as effective as dietary interventions," said graduate student Banafsheh Behzad, a co-author of the study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Obesity is a multidimensional problem with many social and medical factors, but maintaining body weight essentially is a result of energy consumed and energy expended. Other studies look at the two issues individually, or at a local or individual level, but Jacobson's group wanted to look at both sides of the equation through a national lens. As an outgrowth of previous work examining the relationship between driving and obesity, they decided to use driving as a proxy for physical activity.

"An easy way to be more physically active is to spend less time in an automobile. Any time a person sits behind the wheel of a car, it's one of the most docile activities they can do in a day," Jacobson said. "The automobile is the quickest mode of transportation we have. But a consequence of this need for speed in getting things done may be the obesity epidemic."

Photo Credit: Nice Old Car by gunnsteinlye on FlickR, Creative Commons license BY-NC-SA 2.0

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