Nav: Home

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health

November 27, 2018

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health - lower obesity rates. A new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compares data from two years to find that a single percentage-point increase in mass transit ridership is associated with a 0.473 percentage-point lower obesity rate in counties across the United States.

"Opting for mass transit over driving creates opportunities for exercise that may otherwise not exist," said Sheldon H. Jacobson, a co-author of the study and a professor of computer science at Illinois. "Instead of just stepping out of the house and into their car, a user needs to walk from their home to a bus stop and from their stop to their destination."

The report, published in the journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, details a computational analysis of publicly available health, transportation and census data from 227 counties from 45 states in 2001 and 2009. To normalize for different features across regions, the researchers account for differences in economic and lifestyle factors including leisure-time exercise, household income, health care coverage and public transit funding.

The researchers use a simple example as a frame of reference - a hypothetical U.S. county with a 35 percent obesity rate in which 20 percent of the adult population rides public transit at least two days a week or eleven times a month.

"Using this reference point in our analysis, we project that a 1 percentage-point increase in frequent mass transit ridership - from 20 to 21 percent - would translate to a reduction in the county obesity rate from 35 percent to 34.527 percent," said Douglas King, a co-author and senior lecturer of industrial and enterprise systems engineering.

The researchers used the 35 percent reference value because that approximates the current U.S. adult obesity rate - the percentage of adults with a body mass index of 30 percent or higher.

The new analysis is consistent with previous work by Jacobson and King - which found that each percentage-point increase in a county's public transit ridership was associated with a 0.221 percentage point lower obesity rate.

"The new work takes a longitudinal approach, meaning that we examined differences between 2001 and 2009, allowing us to better control for factors that could otherwise influence the analysis," King said. "For example, factors like weather or physical geography that can influence the obesity rate of a county in both 2001 and 2009 are controlled since their influence is present in both time periods."

While the calculated estimates from the two studies differ in magnitude, they do not differ in a statistically significant way, the researchers said. However, both studies generally support the conclusion that increasing transit usage can reduce a county's obesity rate.

"Because this analysis is at the county level, rather than the individual level, the implications for an average person are not clear," Jacobson said. "The results indicate that when more people opt to use public transit, the county level obesity rate tends to drop, though it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently."

This study focuses on data collected in 2001 and 2009, while rail and bus were the predominant forms of public transportation for most people in the U.S.

"It will be interesting to see how transportation modes such as Uber and Lyft, as well as bike-share programs will influence this type of analysis in the future," Jacobson said. "I think our work points to the conclusion that investing in public transit can provide more efficient transportation options that not only benefit the environment but also offer a public health benefit."
-end-
Editor's notes:

To reach Sheldon Jacobson, call 217-244-7275; shj@illinois.edu.

To reach Douglas King, call 217-244-8813; dmking@illinois.edu.

The paper "Is promoting public transit an effective intervention for obesity? A longitudinal study of the relation between public transit usage and obesity" is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1016/j.tra.2018.10.027

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.
BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.
The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.