Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia

J Phys Act Health. 2008 Nov;5(6):795-814. doi: 10.1123/jpah.5.6.795.


Purpose: This study was designed to examine the relationship between active transportation (defined as the percentage of trips taken by walking, bicycling, and public transit) and obesity rates (BMI > or = 30 kg . m-2) in different countries.

Methods: National surveys of travel behavior and health indicators in Europe, North America, and Australia were used in this study; the surveys were conducted in 1994 to 2006. In some cases raw data were obtained from national or federal agencies and then analyzed, and in other cases summary data were obtained from published reports.

Results: Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates. Europeans walked more than United States residents (382 versus 140 km per person per year) and bicycled more (188 versus 40 km per person per year) in 2000.

Discussion: Walking and bicycling are far more common in European countries than in the United States, Australia, and Canada. Active transportation is inversely related to obesity in these countries. Although the results do not prove causality, they suggest that active transportation could be one of the factors that explain international differences in obesity rates.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Bicycling* / statistics & numerical data
  • Body Mass Index
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Transportation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Walking* / statistics & numerical data