The journal 'Health Promotion International' has published the article 'Bicycling to university: evaluation of a bicycle-sharing program in Spain', by researchers from the University of Valencia Javier Molina-García, Isabel Castillo and Ana Queralt, and by James F. Sallis, from the University of California, San Diego. The study has analysed the prevalence of using the system of public bicycles in the city of Valencia.
In summer 2010 the company JC Decaux introduced Valenbisi, a public bicycle system with 1,500 units spread over 150 parking spots. The study now being presented was launched back then and lasted for eight months. The sample included 173 students of the degrees in Psychology and Teacher Training, with an average age of 21.3, only 8.7% of whom used to cycle to university before the study. The Blasco Ibáñez Campus had 210 bikes available and the Tarongers Campus had 146. In addition, at that time the city had 130 km of bike lanes. Data were collected twice: at the beginning of September 2010 and at the end of April 2011. Both times the same questionnaire was conducted in the presence of a researcher of the project to ensure a sound process.
"The results of the follow-up study carried out throughout 8 months show a significant increase in the use of bicycles as a main means of transport to travel to university, as well as the potential of this system to promote a healthy weight and, consequently, to reduce the incidence of obesity and overweight among citizens", says researcher Javier Molina.
Several studies show bicycle commuting is a practice associated with health benefits, such as good cardiovascular fitness, and that is why public policies play a crucial role in encouraging the use of bicycles. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a series of proposals to promote this mode of transport, such as expanding the cycling route networks, creating safe and attractive routes, offering public access to bicycles for short trips and increasing the number of parking stations. The transition from secondary school to university is usually characterised by a decrease in physical activity, which is directly related to increased body weight. In recent decades, the overweight/obesity rate has increased among university students. The university is an important context to promote health and thus it bears the responsibility for supporting healthy programmes and specifically for increasing the levels of physical activity.
It has been found that eight months after its introduction 19% of participants were regular users of the public bicycle system, increased their weekly energy expenditure significantly and reduced their body mass index (BMI). At the end of the study, commuting by bicycle provided users with about half of the weekly physical activity recommended by international organizations such as WHO, which indicate the need for at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity. The factors that most favoured the use of the new system were the existence of at least one Valenbisi station within a range of 250 meters from the participant's house and a riding distance to University of less than 5 km. Another factor that encouraged its use was the perception of a safe environment as regards urban traffic and the existence of bike lanes separated from the rest of vehicles.
"In addition to a proper diet, the results suggest that in order to achieve a profound change in the behaviour of citizens towards healthy lifestyles, public bicycle systems such as Valenbisi play a strategic role in promoting health, as they favour the increase in the levels of physical activity and the reduction of body weight", concludes Javier Molina.
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