Want to Lose Some Weight? Give up your Car!

A Diet Recommended by Carbusters

Obesity is a growing problem and it may keep on growing if nothing is done to fight it. Car culture plays a role in this phenomenon with drivers and passengers having unhealthy diets and lacking physical activity. This is another reason to promote new models of urban planning and transportation. We decided to ask Dr. David Haslam to outline the sociological and medical aspects of obesity and to provide some advice to prevent it. Walking and cycling are obviously good preventive tools and Cat Chappel from Travel Actively, which promotes these activities, outlines the health and mental benefits of these activities.

Drive your car in moderation

By Dr. David Haslam

Nauru, one of the Polynesian Islands, is the smallest nation on Earth. It went from extreme poverty to great wealth with the discovery that the phosphate, derived from bird guano which covered the island, was a valuable fertiliser, resulting in the sale of their topsoil to Australia. The Islanders became rich, but had nothing to spend their money on, so they turned to a Western diet – alcohol and cars. At first there were no roads on Nauru. The population now has an 80% obesity rate, and a 45% prevalence of type II diabetes, and a high rate of drink-driving and road traffic accidents (RTAs).

The health epidemic was analysed in detail in a 1999 paper Obesity in Britain: Gluttony or Sloth? by Prentice and Jebb, which dissected the so-called “obesogenic” environment we live in to accurately define the cause of obesity. They concluded that lack of physical activity was the most important factor behind the rising tide of obesity, citing specifically increased ownership of cars and TV sets as major culprits.

Although the study underestimates the amount of food eaten, especially outside the home, and presents a somewhat simplistic argument linking the different variables, there is no doubt that modern labour-saving technology such as the car has a lot to answer for. Our prehistoric ancestors were programmed to eat whenever food was available; to prepare for future times of famine and fast, and to conserve energy by resting in case our “flight or fight” response was called upon. Therefore those who laid down energy as fat, and were innately sedentary were in pole position for survival of the fittest.

However, evolution has played a nasty trick on us, and those very same characteristics and phenotypes lead to obesity, diabetes and premature death. Our environment has evolved over the last 30 years with advances in technology and food science, which has made weight gain a normal response to an abnormal environment. Our bodies cannot evolve quickly enough to combat these changes, so anyone managing to avoid obesity must either be extremely lucky, or work extremely hard. To walk to work, whilst leaving a perfectly functional car in the drive takes an enormous effort of will, to overcome our deepest rooted instincts, but such efforts of will are necessary in order to preserve or improve health.

Obesity leads to type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver disease, infertility, and many other medical conditions. Sleep apnoea is a condition in which the sufferer snores, and stops breathing for prolonged periods at night, leading to daytime fatigue and somnolence. Obesity is the underlying cause, and as professional driving is by necessity a sedentary occupation, many taxi, HGV and bus drivers suffer from it. Sleep apnoea leads to falling asleep at the wheel and an alarming increase in RTAs and traffic deaths. The current adult population of the UK will lose a cumulative 100,000 million years of life because of obesity and related diseases. It has been shown by many models including French health organisations Ville Sante and EPODE that by empowering a population to make changes in physical activity and nutritional intake, obesity can be tackled.

The effort to change habits must be backed by sufficient political will, and must be properly resourced, but can be done. People will cycle to work if their employers provide shower and changing facilities, if their cycle lane doesn’t peter out into the wrong lane of a dual carriageway, or involve murderous road intersections. In these times of economic hardship, there are savings to be made by walking or cycling to work or leisure pursuits, (and to turn to cheap home cooked seasonal produce). But the governments have a responsibility to make active travel safe travel. The car won’t become obsolete just yet, but just like chocolate, fast food and ice cream should be enjoyed sparingly.

For more information, please visit:

www.villes-sante.com and www.epode.fr

Carfree Health Benefits

By Cat Chappell

The 2007 Foresight report Tackling Obesities: Future Choices laid bare the immense scale of the UK’s obesity problem. Unless there is decisive action immediately, by 2050 almost 60% of the UK population could be obese. There is therefore a need for creating the right environment that helps people to build physical activity into their everyday lives, and then give them the skills and confidence to achieve this. The key to getting people walking and cycling regularly is by incorporating it into people’s daily lives. Walking and cycling should be the natural transport choice for short journeys. But increasingly we are a society that has got out of the habit of walking, even for short local journeys to school, work or the shops. However, despite the fact that walking and cycling are the cheapest and most accessible form of exercise, physical and mental barriers, such as the belief that it can be time consuming, prevents people travelling actively.

Travel Actively is a consortium of leading walking, cycling and health organisations committed to enabling two million people to be more aware of how they could be more active by 2012. They recognise the importance of these daily activities and have 50 tailor-made walking and cycling projects spread over England. Their 2008 Annual Review gave an insight into how health projects can benefit individual’s lives and health for the better. It highlighted improvements from increased physical activity in individual’s mental and physical health, as well as some improvements to social inclusion and cohesion. By the end of 2008 over 85,000 people had participated to the many projects of Travel Actively. The new walkers and cyclists experienced numerous immediate benefits, but the next step is to make this sustainable in the longer run.

For more information, please visit: www.travelactively.org.uk

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