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One in three American adults classified obese, study reports

By Staff | Dec 16, 2008

Obesity rates and gasoline prices have one thing in common — when one is high the other is low.
When gas prices were high months ago more people considered biking or walking to save money, although recently as prices have fallen many of those bicycles and running shoes are being left in storage.
Researchers from the University of Tennessee and Rutgers University released a report indicating that obesity rates are lower in Europe and Australia because more people bike, walk and take mass transit.
In many European industrialized countries, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of workers bicycling or walking to work each day. Yet in the United States, where a majority of commuters use their cars, it is estimated that one in three adults are obese.
The U.S. obesity rate is 23.9 percent, according to the study, while European countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands have a rate of approximately 8 percent.
“Many people blame this on things like technology, TV, Internet and sedentary jobs, but what we found was that there are other industrialized nations who have similar, high standards of living, who do not suffer from obesity to nearly the same extent that the U.S. does,” said David Bassett, co-director of the Obesity Research Center and lead author of the study.
The study analyzed traveling patterns for commuters in North America, Europe and Australia. It found that in 2000 Europeans outwalked Americans by 382 to 140 kilometers per year. The trend was the same for bicycling — Europeans cycled 140 more kilometers per year than Americans.
Brian Mitchell, of Cape Coral Bicycles, said customers purchase bicycles for a variety of reasons.
“A lot of times doctors tell them to buy them to exercise to keep diabetes down,” he said. “It’s all kinds of reasons like that. A little bit of exercise is definitely helpful.”
Biking in Cape Coral is growing in popularity. Hundreds will turn out Jan. 10 for the annual 100-mile “Tour de Cape,” where cyclists travel across the city.
Another factor in determining obesity rates, according to researchers, is the availability of mass transit. The study pointed out that locations with better access to mass transit services had residents who are more likely to meet national recommendations for physical activity.
Researchers are also trying to study the effect of public transit systems on local obesity rates.
“An important area for future study is to determine whether changes in infrastructure to allow more walking and cycling, along with expanded public transit systems, would increase active transportation and have an impact on obesity rates,” the report states.
The LeeTran bus system is currently the major transport service in the county with 18 bus routes that provided more than 3 million rides last year.
For the last two years the Metropolitan Planning Organization has also been pushing for a countywide mass transit authority, but this new governmental arm has to be voted on because it would have taxing authority.
A countywide transit authority could expand local travel to include ferries and high speed buses.