New study links reliance on car to obesity, with implications for type 2 diabetes

The surging obesity rates and the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes may be closely associated with Americans' growing reliance on automobiles, suggests a new study out of the University of Illinois.

Junk food, video games and television have all been frequent targets of individuals looking to place blame for the obesity epidemic. To be sure, these factors encourage sedentary lifestyles and can result in weight gain when consumed in excess. However, the new study, which appears in the journal Transport Policy, indicates that the nation's driving habits may actually be more closely related to obesity rates.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on average miles traveled per licensed vehicle between the years 1985 and 2007. During this time, the average number of miles driven by each vehicle - and presumably the owners of these vehicles - increased.

When these data were compared to statistics on obesity rates, the researchers found a close relationship. In fact, the figures showed a 99 percent correlation between the rise in miles driven and the increase in obesity rates.

"When you are sitting in a car, you are doing nothing, so your body is burning the least amount of energy possible," said Sheldon Jackobs, who led the study. "And if you are eating food in your car, it becomes even worse. If you look over the last 60-plus years, the automobile has become our primary mode of transportation. It is that energy imbalance that ultimately may lead to obesity."

Given the fact that obesity is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes, these findings have important implications for those at risk for the condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that increasing physical activity is among the best ways to avoid type 2 diabetes, and relying less on motor vehicle transportation may be a good place to start.
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