David Bassett Jr. of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville said "active travel" -- bicycling or walking -- fosters healthier communities compared with regions where cars are the favored way to get around.
Bassett and colleagues conducted a study on "active travel" in the United States and 15 other countries. They linked more than half of the differences in obesity rates among countries to walking and cycling rates, finding places with the highest walking and biking rates have fewer obese people.
In addition, about 30 percent of the difference in obesity rates among U.S. states and cities was also linked to walking and cycling rates.
"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," the study said.
"Moreover, land-use policies should foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter trip distances that are more suitable for walking and biking."
The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.