Promoting cycling in cities can tackle obesity

Daily travel by bike leads to the lowest BMI, according to a study of seven European cities, suggesting cities should promote active commutes.

People cycling
Image: Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock

The benefits of cycling are almost as endless as the country lanes you could soon be exploring. If you’re considering taking up cycling, and weighing it up against other potential activities, a new study here to suggest that daily cycling can lead to the lowest BMI, suggesting cities should promote active commutes.

The additional and major benefit of it that the cities would help reduce pollution.

The study was conducted on 7 European cities as a part of the European Commission funded Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches (PASTA) project. Scientists tested over 2000 urban dwellers over time.

They found that daily cyclists weigh less than their non-active counterparts. Men who switch from a car driving to cycling for their daily travel lose on average 0.75 kg of weight, with an average decrease in BMI of 0.24. For women, this was a little bit less.

Originally, the study is associated with a higher BMI as compared to regular cyclists. In ascending order, cyclists have the lowest BMI, then walkers, public transport users, motorcyclists, users of an electric bike, and finally car drivers, who have the highest BMI.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, was led by Hasselt University and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research and included Imperial College London researchers.

Study’s author noted, “Promoting active travel in cities may, therefore, provide an opportunity to fight the obesity epidemic, as well as tackle air pollution.”

Co-author Dr. Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Travel by car contributes to obesity and also air pollution. In contrast, bikes burn fat and don’t release pollution.”

“As well as promoting better health, cities that encourage cycling are giving themselves a better chance of meeting air quality objectives.”

Dr. Evi Dons from Hasselt University said, “We also found that people who cycle at least occasionally to go to work or to run errands maintained their weight. In this way, cycling prevents overweight people from gaining additional weight and it prevents those who are of normal weight from becoming overweight or obese.”

By following people over time, scientists showed the association between the cycling and BMI. The outcomes were not skewed by only taking into account people who were already cyclists, as someone of a lower weight is more likely to cycle in the first place.

By going back to the same people as they took up cycling, the researchers could gauge the true effect on the people’s health and BMI.

The study focused on traveling for daily tasks such as commuting to work, running errands, or picking up children. This means that observed weight differences were independent of possible weight changes due to recreational cycling, walking or jogging, sports, or being physically active at work.