Encouraging people to ride a cycle to work may not only help cities tackle air pollution, but also reduce obesity in urban populations, a study has found.
The study, published in the journal Environment International, also found that riding an electric bike (e-bike) is associated with a higher (body mass index)BMI as compared to regular cyclists.
In ascending order, cyclists have the lowest BMI, then walkers, public transport users, motorcyclists, users of an electric bike, and finally car drivers, who have the highest BMI.
By following over 2,000 urban dwellers over time, the team found that men who switch from car driving to cycling for their daily travel lose on average 0.75 kg of weight, with an average decrease in BMI of 0.24. For women, this was a little bit less.
"As well as promoting better health, cities that encourage cycling are giving themselves a better chance of meeting air quality objectives," she said.
The team also found that people who cycle at least occasionally to go to work or to run errands maintained their weight.
"In this way, cycling prevents overweight people from gaining additional weight and it prevents those who are of normal weight from becoming overweight or obese," said Evi Dons from Hasselt University.
The study followed people over time, providing a more concrete link between cycling and BMI than studies that just survey people at one point in time.
It also meant the results were not skewed by only taking into account people who were already cyclists, as someone of a lower weight is more likely to cycle in the first place.
By going back to the same people as they took up cycling, the researchers could gauge the true effect on the people's health and BMI.
The study focused on travelling for daily tasks such as commuting to work, running errands, or picking up children.
This means that observed weight differences were independent of possible weight changes due to recreational cycling, walking or jogging, sports, or being physically active at work.
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