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Kids on bikes

David Tonyan/MEDILL

Two cyclists take a ride around Lincoln Park on Wednesday. Studies suggest that creating a healthful environment where people can cycle  is an effective step toward lowering obesity rates.

City starts pedaling toward lower obesity rates

by David Tonyan
April 12, 2012

While preventing obesity is a complicated goal, Chicago appears to be taking a step toward that objective with its new bike-sharing rental program.

The new large-scale bicycle-sharing program scheduled to begin this summer could help improve the obesity situation. While it likely will not lower the rates immediately, the program’s more than 300 locations will contribute to making healthful living more convenient for Chicagoans.

“The idea behind this is to create an environment that allows people to be more active,” said Efrat Stein, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health, in an email, “by making changes to our infrastructure and environmental changes, such as the bike share program.”

Anne Alt, president of the Chicago Cycling Club, said: “I think it could help as part of a broad-based multi-pronged program. If people find it easy to ride instead of taking a cab or getting in a private car, it has the potential to make a difference.”

Studies suggest that creating a healthful environment where people are cycling and walking to cover short distances rather than driving is an effective step toward lowering obesity rates.

“In general, states with the highest levels of bicycling and walking have the lowest levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes and have the greatest percentage of adults who meet the recommended 30-plus minutes per day of physical activity,” said the 2012 benchmark report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, citing a 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System annual survey done by the CDC.

Two additional studies that included United States and European activity levels and their obesity rates provide more evidence that this is a good step.

A 2010 study, which summarized the scientific evidence of the health benefits of walking and cycling in cities in Europe, North America and Australia, confirmed that active commuting contributed to lowering the obesity rates.

Another study in 2008 examined the relationship between active transportation and obesity rates using national surveys in Europe, North America and Australia, finding that countries where active travel is most common have the lowest obesity rates.