Published Sunday, 12 August 2007

New IEEP report makes link between car use, obesity and carbon dioxide emissions 

A new report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and Adrian Davis Associates published on August 13, 2007 highlights the extent to which car use is implicated in the increase in obesity as well as rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The report ‘Unfit for purpose: how car use fuels climate change and obesity’ was widely covered by the media following its release. Read a list of articles and interviews.

Interestingly, the media focused their attention on car exclusion zones around schools as a means to get parents and children to use alternative modes of transport to travel to school. Measures and policies to encourage people to walk more were not, however, the main focus of this report. The study aimed to research and analyse the evidence that links climate change and obesity to the decline in walking and its substitution by car. This was the first report to pull together available and comparable national data in order to make the links between car ownership and changes in travel behaviour, climate change and obesity.

The report finds that by returning to the walking patterns of 30 years ago, when car ownership was less common (ie by walking just 1 hour more during the week), people could help save up to 11 MtCO2 (15.4% of total emissions from passenger cars) and reduce the chances of becoming obese (ie avoiding an average weight gain of 2lb 11oz each year, which over 20-30 years could lead to an obese body weight).

Reverting to the walking patterns we had before owning a car, when physical activity included more regular walking to work, to the shops and to escort children to school, could therefore be an important part of national programmes to fight climate change and obesity. The costs of such programmes are likely to be dwarfed by those that would be incurred by the National Health Service and society at large through inactivity, ill-health and premature death as a consequence of obesity (estimated at £8.2 billion per year).

The report, which focuses on the UK, provides a good case study for policy makers around Europe, providing them with suggestions for simple and relatively inexpensive ways to tackle the two linked crises.

Download the full press release (PDF 38KB)

Read the full report