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Drive Less Often to Lose Weight

Update Date: Dec 19, 2012 08:51 AM EST

Everyone is trying hard to be in their best shape during this festive season. People are cutting down on fatty food, going for a jog and trying out crash diets. However, have you tried staying away from your car to lose those extra pounds? It may sound weird, but it is apparently true.  

A new study by researchers from University of Illinois suggests that automobile travel and calorie intake per day on a daily basis, both are related to body weight. And a reduction in one, even by a small amount, can bring down people's BMI.

The study was led by computer science and mathematics professor Sheldon H. Jacobson.

"We're saying that making small changes in travel or diet choices may lead to comparable obesity reduction, which implies that travel-based interventions may be as effective as dietary interventions," said graduate student Banafsheh Behzad, a co-author of the study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Multiple factors contribute to obesity: factors that are social and those which are medical too. However, the maintenance of body weight is largely dependent on the amount of energy intake and its expenditure.  While other studies have looked into the two issues individually, at a local or individual level, the current study aimed at examining both sides of the equation through a national lens, Medical Xpress reported.

"An easy way to be more physically active is to spend less time in an automobile. Any time a person sits behind the wheel of a car, it's one of the most docile activities they can do in a day," Jacobson said. "The automobile is the quickest mode of transportation we have. But a consequence of this need for speed in getting things done may be the obesity epidemic."

For the study, the researchers used publicly available data on national average BMI, calorie intake and driving habits, and examined the complexity in the relationship among the three variables.

The findings of the study revealed that if all adults in the U.S. drive one mile less per day, there will be a  decrease in the national average BMI by 0.21 kg/m2 after six years. In comparison, reducing diet by 100 calories per day would be associated with reducing national average BMI by 0.16 kg/m2 after three years, the report said.

"One mile is really not much," Behzad said. "If they would just consider even taking the bus, walking the distance to the bus stop could have an impact like eating 100 calories less per day. The main thing is paying attention to caloric intake and moving more, together, can help reduce BMI."

The predictions made by the researchers through this study also represent significant cost savings.  Travelling one mile lesser by car each day would reduce fuel consumption and will also cut down annual health care costs by billions of dollars, with fewer people being classified as obese or overweight.

"The most important thing for people to learn from this study is that they have a choice," Jacobson said.

"One has to be just as careful about when you choose to drive as when you choose to eat. These small changes in our driving and dietary habits can lead to long-term significant changes in obesity issues. Those are the kind of changes we advocate."

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