Study: Cycling daily reduces obesity - unless it's an e-bike

Research in seven European cities found cycling is healthiest way to travel, but e-bike riders' BMI was second only that of motorists...

A study of travel habits in seven European cities has found that people who ride their bikes daily have the lowest body mass index (BMI) of any class of transport user – unless the bicycle in question is an electric one, in which case they rank second only to motorists in terms of obesity levels.

The study was published in the journal Environment International under the title Transport mode choice and body mass index: Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from a European-wide study.

It was conducted as part of the Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches (PASTA) project, which is funded by the European Commission.

Among the findings of the study, which focused on Vienna, Zurich, Antwerp, Barcelona, Örebro, Rome and the London Borough of Newham were that people riding an e-bike had a higher BMI than those riding conventional bicycles.

 Riders of e-bikes also scored higher than pedestrians, people who use public transport and motorcyclists, and the only group they had a lower BMI than was car drivers.

The authors of the study, which was led by researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium, called on governments to make cities more bike-friendly, pointing out that as well as helping combat obesity, that would also reduce air pollution.

The study, which analysed the habits of more than 2,000 people in the surveyed cities, found that men switching from cars to bicycles for daily travel lost an average of 0.75 kilograms in weight, with their BMI falling by 0.24. Results among female respondents were slightly lower.

Co-author Dr Audrey de Nazelle of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, said: “Travel by car contributes to obesity and also air pollution. In contrast, bikes burn fat and don’t release pollution.

“As well as promoting better health, cities that encourage cycling are giving themselves a better chance of meeting air quality objectives.”

Even when people only cycled occasionally, for example to on the odd commute or to run errands, the study found that they were able to maintain their BMI.

Lead author Dr Evi Dons of Hasselt University commented: “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.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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