Monday, September 26, 2011

Rolling Fat: A Motor Trend

Recently in the gym, I picked up a magazine to read while I warmed up on the bike. In a recent Motor Trend magazine, I happened upon an article,Technologue: Rolling Fat: Is Our Auto-Centric Lifestyle Making Us Obese?

As I’m burning off some calories, I find some recent research by Sheldon Jacobson, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, linking automobile use and adult obesity. Their trend analysis of vehicle miles driven divided by the number of licensed drivers from 1985 to 2007 highly correlated (98 %) with annual obesity rate information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While there are many candidates for blame in the spiraling epidemic of obesity in the U.S., Jacobson submits that the number one source is our staple of modern life that we can’t seem to live without – the automobile. As he points out in the article, “Obesity is an energy imbalance, and driving is one of the lowest energy expenditure activities we do in any day.” But what can we really do about such a fundamental part of the nation’s daily routine? Is it possible to continue our driving patterns and still eliminate obesity? The research team sees this topic as complex requiring that we, as a society, will have to rethink the way we use our automobiles if we want to address obesity.

The following quote captures some perspective and change actions:

Turning its numbers around, the U of I team asserted that America’s obesity problem would be eliminated if we each replaced 12 miles of daily driving with a more physical means of transportation while continuing to do the same things. Jacobson knows this will never happen and notes “if the changes that lead to obesity are small, the changes that reverse it can be small, too – but they must be persistent. If every licensed driver reduced travel by one mile per day, in six years the adult obesity rate would be 2.16 %lower, leading to $16-18 billion in healthcare savings.

In a related article, Jacobson carries the discussion further to link these complex issues in both public health and environmental perspectives. He states “at the aggregate, if we drive less, not only will our carbon footprint be smaller, we will lose more weight as a nation.”