Rising gas prices affect our national health for the better?

Do rising gas prices affect our lives?

Researcher Christopher Steiner thinks the higher price of gas does affect our lives--for the better:
The United States, by just about any measure, has managed to make itself fat. Since 1979, the percentage of U.S. adults who can be classified as obese--the condition of weighing substantially more than the medical optimum--has risen from 15.1% to 32.2%. That’s more than a doubling, an astounding rate of change. Moreover, a full two-thirds of American adults are now overweight, perhaps on their way to becoming medically obese. Our fatness costs us a lot of money: $117 billion per year in early mortality and extra medical expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. . . . And, of course, our fatness costs lives: 112,000 deaths related to complications and diseases stemming from obesity. That’s the same number of people who live in Ann Arbor, Mich., or Peoria, Ill., people who die every year because they’re fat.

There’s a bevy of factors behind the surging waistlines of Americans: processed foods, television, videogames, computers, fewer laborious jobs, more service-oriented jobs. But one factor floats just below the oily surface of our largesse: cheap gas.

Charles Courtemanche, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has produced a study suggesting that permanent hikes in gas prices may slash obesity rates. The amount is hardly nominal: A sustained $1 increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline equals a 10% dip in the nation’s obesity rate--that’s about 9 million fewer obese people clogging up health care systems and costing society (and themselves) money. . . .

Courtemanche found evidence in his data that rising gas prices resulted in more Americans walking and more Americans bicycling. Perhaps just as important, he noticed that, as gas prices increase, people eat out at restaurants less. In addition to more strolling and cycling, people use public transportation more, Courtemanche says, and that, too, burns far more calories than sitting in a bucket driver’s seat, sipping coffee, and flipping through radio channels. People who use subways, buses, trolleys or commuter rail services need to get to and from mass transit stops, and that probably means more walking on both ends. A $1 rise in gas means 11,000 fewer lives lost to obesity-related causes and $11 billion per year saved on health costs, Courtemanche says.
Read the whole article here or find out more about Steiner's book here.

What do you think? Are higher gas prices actually good for us? Is there any way we could get the benefits Steiner points out without having to put up with higher gas prices? Leave a comment in the comments section below with your thoughts . . .