A new study has revealed that communities with more walkers and cyclists are healthier than those where people must rely on cars to get around.
Researchers analyzed city- and state-level data from the United States and international data from 15 countries to study the relationship between "active travel"-bicycling or walking rather than driving-and physical activity, obesity and diabetes.
The results showed that more than half of the differences in obesity rates among countries are linked to walking and cycling rates.
In addition, about 30 percent of the difference in obesity rates among states and cities is linked to walking and cycling rates.
"Perhaps the greatest strength of our analysis was that it showed that the relationship between active travel and health was discernible at three different geographic levels: international, state and city," authors said
"A growing body of evidence suggests that differences in the built environment for physical activity (e.g., infrastructure for walking and cycling, availability of public transit, street connectivity, housing density and mixed land use) influence the likelihood that people will use active transport for their daily travel.
"People who live in areas that are more conducive to walking and cycling are more likely to engage in these forms of active transport," authors said.
The researchers have also suggested that infrastructure improvements should be combined with restrictions on car use, such as car-free zones, traffic calming in residential neighborhoods, reductions in motor vehicle speeds, and limited and more expensive car parking.
"Moreover, land-use policies should foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter trip distances that are more suitable for walking and biking," they added.
Comparing all 50 states and 47 of the 50 largest American cities, the researchers found that states with higher rates of walking and cycling had a higher percentage of adults who achieved recommended levels of physical activity, a lower percentage of adults who are obese, and a lower percentage of adults with diabetes.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.