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Study: Leaner Nations Bike, Walk, Use Mass Transit

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Jim Richards is no kid, but he loves to ride his bike. At 51, he has become a cycling commuter, pedaling 11 miles from his home in the suburbs to his job in downtown Knoxville.

"It really doesn't take that much longer" than driving, he insists.

And he gets 40 minutes of exercise twice a day without going to the gym, which he attributes to a 20-pound weight loss.

New research illustrates the health benefits of regular biking, walking or taking public transportation to work, school or shopping. Researchers found a link between "active transportation" and less obesity in 17 industrialized countries across Europe, North America and Australia.

"Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates," authors David Bassett of the University of Tennessee and John Pucher of Rutgers University conclude.

Americans, with the highest rate of obesity, were the least likely to walk, cycle or take mass transit, according to the study in a recent issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. The study relied on each country's own travel and health data.

Only 12 percent use active transportation in the United States _ 9 percent walk, 1 percent ride a bike and 2 percent take a bus or train _ while a quarter to a third are obese, the study said.

By comparison, 67 percent of commuters in Latvia, 62 percent in Sweden and 52 percent in the Netherlands either walk, bike or use mass transit. Latvia's obesity rate is 14 percent, the Netherlands' is 11 percent and Sweden's is 9 percent.

A similar pattern was found in Canada (19 percent active transportation, 23 percent obese) and Australia (14 percent active transportation, 21 percent obese).

Overall, Bassett said, "Europeans walk three times as far and cycle five times as far as Americans."

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