Public transit, obesity, and medical costs: assessing the magnitudes

Prev Med. 2008 Jan;46(1):14-21. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2007.10.004. Epub 2007 Oct 18.


Objective: This paper assesses the potential benefits of increased walking and reduced obesity associated with taking public transit in terms of dollars of medical costs saved and disability avoided.

Methods: I conduct a new analysis of a nationally representative U.S. transportation survey to gauge the net increase in walking associated with public transit usage. I translate minutes spent walking into energy expenditures and reductions in obesity prevalence, estimating the present value of costs and disability that may be avoided.

Results: Taking public transit is associated with walking 8.3 more minutes per day on average, or an additional 25.7-39.0 kcal. Hill et al. [Hill, J.O., Wyatt, H.R., Reed, G.W., Peters, J.C., 2003. Obesity and the environment: Where do we go from here? Science 299 (5608), 853-855] estimate that an increase in net expenditure of 100 kcal/day can stop the increase in obesity in 90% of the population. Additional walking associated with public transit could save $5500 per person in present value by reducing obesity-related medical costs. Savings in quality-adjusted life years could be even higher.

Conclusions: While no silver bullet, walking associated with public transit can have a substantial impact on obesity, costs, and well-being. Further research is warranted on the net impact of transit usage on all behaviors, including caloric intake and other types of exercise, and on whether policies can promote transit usage at acceptable cost.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Data Collection
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / economics
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Public Sector
  • Transportation*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Walking / physiology