More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

Click to enlarge

And the same holds for obesity:

Click to enlarge.

Clearly there are a lot of factors at work here, and there are limitations to the conclusions you can draw from these types of statistical correlations. But this geographical study from the Alliance helps confirm that across the U.S., active commuting is a good predictor of broad public health metrics.

“People are healthier in states where more people bike and walk,” said Alliance spokesperson Mary Lauran Hall. “These states’ governments are facing a great opportunity to encourage more folks to bike and walk in the interest of boosting public health.”

  • Good news! We can lower our nation’s outrageous health care costs (% of GDP and per capita highest in the world) by investing teensy amounts in making walking and biking safer, more convenient, and more pleasant. Many, many studies show that though not sufficient in and of itself, at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise each day is necessary for rudimentary health.

  • Tim

    I’d like to see the same chart with %African American population instead of %walking/biking. Some of the outliers make me think that this might be as much about race as place.

  • Alex Benn

    I’m all for biking and walking advocacy, but we need to be careful to back it up with robust models. These data should be put on a scatterplot if we want to show a linear correlation, rather than just putting a sorted list of states on the x-axis. The trendline and R^2 values here don’t mean anything, as presented.

  • andrelot

    This is a bad graph. It should plot the disease in on axis, the % of population walking on other.

    I don’t think it was done with ill-intent, but from a statistician point of view, presenting graphs as in the article is a poor choice, if you want to argue anything about the model fitness.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Researchers Confirm Link Between Active Commuting and Better Health

|
It makes intuitive sense that cycling and walking to work regularly would help people stay healthy, but until now there’s only been anecdotal evidence suggesting that places where walking or cycling to work is common also have lower rates of obesity. Bike traffic in Philadelphia. Photo: Kyle Gradinger, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia That changed […]

Our Waistlines Are Expanding In Sync With Our Car-Dependence

|
States with the highest adult obesity rates also tend to be where the fewest people bike or walk to work. Image: CDC Two reports released last week underscored the increasing severity of America’s obesity epidemic. And the eye-opening findings add to the mounting evidence that stopping the spread of obesity and its attendant health risks […]

Low-Income Americans Walk and Bike to Work the Most

|
The U.S. Census Bureau just released its first-ever report exclusively on walking and biking [PDF]. Using data from the American Community Survey, the report shows how rates of active transportation vary by age, income, education, race, and the availability of a vehicle. It’s a lot more detail than the usual Census data release on how people get […]

Complete Streets Bill Introduced in Senate

|
Earlier this week, 12 senators, led by Tom Harkin (D-IA), introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2011 (S.1056), a companion to the House bill we reported on a few weeks back. The purpose of the bills is to push states and metropolitan planning organizations to fully consider incorporating pedestrian and bicycle safety measures when roads […]