Pollution, Cycling & Obesity

Air Quality and Exercise – Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States

What would happen if people rode instead of drove for just 40% of journeys under 4 kilometres?  A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives indicates the net health benefit from reduced air pollution and increased exercise would exceed $255 per capita – or $7 billion – for the study region of 31 million people.

The research focuses on the improved health outcomes from a decrease in pollution and increase in activity levels and finds that the annual average urban PM2.5 would decline by 0.1 µg/m3, resulting in net health benefits of $3.5 billion/year (95% CI: $0.4–$9.8 billion), with 25% of PM2.5 and most O3 benefits to populations outside metropolitan areas. Across the study region of approximately 31.3 million people and 37,000 total square miles, mortality would decline by approximately 1,100 deaths/year (95% CI: 856 – 1,346) due to improved air quality and increased exercise.

Our Note: By discouraging cycling, mandatory helmet laws contribute to Australia’s mortality rates and rising health-care costs. Cycling levels declined by 30-40% when helmet laws where enacted in Australia in the early 1990s and current surveys reveal the laws are still discouraging a similar proportion of people from riding today. Repealing them is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for encouraging more people to cycle as a form of transport.

Source: Grabow ML, Spak SN, Holloway T, Stone Jr. B, Mednick AC, Patz JA 2011. Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States. Environ Health Perspect :-. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103440

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