May 16 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed a link between higher mass transit use and lower obesity rates in the United States.
The study of county health and transportation data revealed that for each 1 percent increase in a county's population using public transportation, obesity rates dropped by 0.2 percent.
Researchers used a number of factors as controls in the study, including household income, poverty rate, education level, access to healthcare and leisure physical activity.
"By viewing this link at the county level, we provide a national perspective by considering data from counties throughout the United States," Douglas M. King, of the University of Illinois, said in a press release. "Our research suggests that, in addition to benefits to the environment and greater access to transportation for residents, community-level investments into public transit systems may also benefit public health by reducing obesity rates."
The study backed up previous research that found a reduction in daily driving, even by a mile a day, was associated with a reduction in body mass index.
"The choice to ride public transit instead of driving can create an opportunity for physical activity," said Sheldon H. Jacobson, professor of computer science at the University of Illinois. "For example, when someone rides a bus, they may begin their trip by walking from their home to a bus stop before boarding the bus. Then, once they get off of the bus, they may still need to walk from a bus stop to their destination. Alternatively, if they had driven a car, they might simply drive directly from their home to their destination and eliminate the walking portion of the trip."
The study was published in Preventive Medicine.
"As local communities seek to allocate public funds to projects that will provide the most benefit to their residents, our research suggests that investing in convenient and affordable public transit systems may improve public health by reducing obesity, thereby providing more value than had been previously thought," Jacobson said.