Tuesday, July 6, 2010

New Study Shows Health Benefits of Riding Rail: ‘Taking Public Transit Might Help You Stay Slim’

HealthDay has reported that walking to and from transit stations can contribute to weight loss. The study is reported in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (not yet available online as of today) and in many online sites, such as HealthyWomen.org.

"Fixed rail transit systems provide a moderate public health benefit to users by creating more opportunity for walking in one's daily commute," said study co-author Robert Stokes, coordinator of the Urban Environmental Studies Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "This benefit, when aggregated to society, is not inconsequential and should become part of any discussion on the costs and benefits of transit and land use planning and policy."

The study is based on the transit-riding habits of 500 people in Charlotte, NC. (We found reason to celebrate Charlotte’s new rail transit system a week ago today.) According to HealthDay, the typical commuter who used the system lost an average of nearly 6.5 pounds over 12 to 18 months thanks to walking to and from transit stations.

The study also found that system riders had an 81-percent lower risk of obesity than those who didn’t ride.

"Providing smartly planned public transit options for fast-growing, sprawling metros can reduce the prevalence of obesity, which has been strongly related to time spent in one's automobile," Stokes said. "Transit planners need to work with municipal planners and public safety agencies to create safe and attractive transit environments that maximize use of (transit) lines," he added.
Going beyond transit planning, lowering obesity rates has a society-wide benefit by reducing health-care costs.

We always chuckle at the fervent assertion by rail opponents that Oahu residents simply won’t get out of their cars to ride Honolulu’s future train. Many will continue to drive – even if taking the train would be convenient – due to personal preferences and destinations, but it’s a nonsensical argument in light of all the benefits to be derived by taking the train.

In addition to cost and time savings, add health gains to the list.

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