New research ties bike-friendly infrastructure changes in United States cities to increases in "active commuting" by bike-riding residents, which can improve and sustain weight[i] and reduce cardiac risk[ii]. The research comes as many of the largest U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, add hundreds of miles of bike lanes and launch bike-sharing programs, which Bicycling magazine editor calls "an indicator of an urban area's vibrancy and livability." The findings will be presented during a poster session on Nov. 4 at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting at ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston, Mass.
"Recently released Census Bureau data show that the number of people commuting by bike has increased by 60% over the past decade -- but until now, the increase has not been closely tied to a supportive city infrastructure," said senior study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, TOS Vice President and Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina. "Our goal was to evaluate how the development of the Minneapolis Greenway affected the commute of residents over a ten-year period. We found that bicycle commuting increased most significantly in communities along the Greenway. These data are supportive, but not proof, that a commitment to urban cycling infrastructure can increase active commuting by bicycle."
Research led by the University of North Carolina team used previously collected data from Minneapolis, where increases in commuting by bicycle have significantly exceeded the national average over the past decade. During the same period, the city made major bicycle infrastructure changes, including the Greenway -- a trans-city, off-road trail system linking major residential and employment centers. Results show greater increases in commuting by bicycle among residents living near the Greenway. For example, the percentage of workers commuting by bike increased by 89%, from 1.8% (95% CI: 1.2, 2.4) in 2000 to 3.4% (2.9, 4.0) among those living three miles of the Greenway, while those living six miles from the greenway increased by 33%, from 1.2% (0.1, 2.4) to 1.8% (0.7, 2.9).
"While it's well known that bicycling and walking are effective physical activities to promote healthy weight and reduce cardiac risk, this type of active transportation remains more common in European cities than in North America," said Dr. Gordon-Larsen. "Some of this difference between Europe and North America can be attributed back to safety concerns associated with cycling in most North American cities, which provides even greater emphasis for infrastructure changes for North American decision-makers to provide safe active commuting routes."
TOS agrees that a population approach is one of the key pieces to combatting the obesity epidemic.
"This study reinforces the idea that the way our environment is constructed has the potential to positively impact community health," said John M. Jakicic, PhD, FTOS, of the University of Pittsburgh speaking on behalf of TOS. "As proposals are designed for new developments or the renovation of existing infrastructure, we call on architects, engineers, and city planners -- among others involved in the process -- to consider designs that make physical activity safe and accessible for the community. We've seen encouraging momentum during the past decade, and hope to see even more infrastructure changes that broadly encompass all communities to encourage active and healthy lifestyles across the U.S. and all of North America."
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