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The Road to Obesity May, in Fact, Be a Road

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In case your subscription to the journal Transport Policy has lapsed, here's some news that will startle you: A University of Illinois researcher reports in the current issue that the reason for America's obesity epidemic may have less to do with drive-thru junk food than the drive-thru itself.

Sheldon H. Jacobson told the U of I's news bureau that the surge in car usage in the United States between the 1950s and today may be associated with surging levels of obesity.

"You can think of obesity as an energy imbalance," Mr. Jacobson said. "People consume food, which is a form of energy, and then they expend it in their activities. But if you look over the last 60-plus years, the automobile has become our primary mode of transportation - so much so, in fact, we have literally designed our way of life around it. It is that energy imbalance that ultimately may lead to obesity."

Mr. Jacobson and his research assistants analyzed driving statistics between 1985 and 2007.

They identified, no doubt correctly, every moment spent behind the wheel as sedentary activity.

"When you are sitting in a car, you are doing nothing, so your body is burning the least amount of energy possible," he said. "And if you are eating food in your car, it becomes even worse."

Mr. Jacobson discovered vehicle use correlated "in the 99-percent range" with national annual obesity rates.

"For the last 60-plus years, we've literally built our society around the automobile and getting from point A to point B as quickly as we can. Because we choose to drive rather than walk or cycle, the result is an inactive, sedentary lifestyle. Not coincidentally, obesity also became a public health issue during this period."

Mr. Jacobson and his team figure that if every American driver drove 12 fewer miles per day, the nation's obesity problem could be solved. "But here's the catch: We have to still do everything we are currently doing," he said.

This is a pretty big commitment. We're going to need to drive over to Ted Drewes' and think about it for a while.

REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM



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