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Mapping The Link Between Obesity And Car Driving

What are you doing when you’re driving? Not exercising, that’s for sure. And in the parts of the country where people drive the most, they also pack on the most pounds.

It stands to reason that the less you bike or walk, the more you drive. And the more you drive, the less exercise you get from the aforementioned activities. The link between obesity and driving can now be seen in map form, thanks to some research from Planetizen.

In this first map, we can see the prevalence of obesity in the U.S.

Click to zoom.

Here, we can see the percentage of commuters that drive.

Click to zoom.

Notice any similarities? The so-called “Diabetes Belt”–the area running from the deep South to Appalachia–is also home to a lot of commuters who drive. As the Planetizen researchers note, this belt of car commuters goes even further, moving into Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

These two factors don’t necessarily mean that the two factors are related. But in the scatterplot below, the relationship between obesity and increased car commuting becomes even clearer.

Click to zoom.

This still doesn’t necessarily mean that driving more causes obesity, especially since walking and biking make up such a small percentage of commutes even in less obese areas. And in fact, another map of median household income shows that lower incomes are also correlated with increased obesity.

Click to zoom.

As we have explained in past posts, there are a number of unexpected factors that contribute to obesity–sitting at your desk working all day, drinking diet soda, and even your mom’s pregnancy diet. But the Planetizen story isn’t the first to recognize the connection between driving and obesity.

After analyzing national statistics between 1985 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois found that vehicle use (measured in annual vehicle miles traveled) correlated 99% with annual obesity rates. So every other contributing factor notwithstanding, it still makes a lot of sense to ditch the car and hop on a bike (or just your own two feet) whenever you can.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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