Transportation and Health By the Numbers

Jan 24, 2012, 5:36 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Yesterday’s “Intersection of Transportation and Health” workshop, a day for the health-o-philes at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, underscored the concept that transportation plays a critical role in determining health outcomes. Brian Raymond, MPH, Senior Policy Consultant, Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy, outlined several important ways transportation affects health:

  • injuries and accidents from motor vehicle crashes;
  • poor air quality its effects on asthma and a myriad of other health conditions;
  • impact on physical activity, for better or worse (depending on whether automobiles or public transit are the focus); and
  • “access to the necessities of life,” providing a way to get to jobs and economic opportunities, to access health care options and to readily and regularly access fresh, health foods.

Air pollution and motor vehicle crashes get a lot of attention, and thus have a lot of research behind them, said Andrew Dannenberg, MD, MPH, Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington and consultant on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Community Design Initiative, who presented on research priorities for transportation and health. Though more research is needed on access and physical activity, some interesting trends are beginning to emerge. Some of the statistics revealed at the workshop include:

  • Three trillion vehicle miles are traveled in the U.S. each year, according to the Federal Highway Research Administration.
  • Between 1990 and 2009 the vehicle miles traveled for passenger cars and trucks has increased by 39 percent, said David Ragland, PhD, MPH, Director of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Every additional hour spent in a car is associated with a 6% increase in the risk of obesity, and every kilometer walked is associated with a 5% decrease in obesity risk, said Raymond.
  • Thirty-six percent of adults don’t report any leisure time physical activity; 88% don’t meet federal guidelines for the recommended amount of activity.
  • The estimated medical costs of inactivity top $75 billion per year.
  • Walking and biking are the top leisure physical activities of choice in the U.S., and are also the top utilitarian physical activities.
  • Public transit users walk a median of 19 minutes daily getting to and from transit stops. Nearly 30 percent of transit users exceed the 30 minutes of recommended physical activity per day.

Some resources shared at the workshop included:

>>Follow continued coverage of the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting from here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.