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Transit System Use Linked to Healthful Changes for Riders

Use of light rail tied to lower BMI, odds of obesity; neighborhood perceptions affect exercise levels

FRIDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Increased use of light rail transit (LRT) systems is associated with reduced body mass index (BMI) and lower odds of becoming obese, and individuals with more positive perceptions of their neighborhoods are less likely to be obese and more likely to get recommended levels of exercise, according to research published online June 29 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

John M. MacDonald, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues used questionnaires and interviews to track BMI and physical activity in a cohort of people living in Charlotte, N.C., before and after the opening of a LRT system in 2008.

The researchers found that subjects who used LRT to commute had an average 1.18 kg/m² reduction in BMI, which calculated to an average weight loss of 6.45 pounds. Compared to LRT non-users, the LRT users had an 81 percent reduction in risk for becoming obese over time. The researchers also found that more positive perceptions of one's neighborhood at baseline were linked to lower BMI (0.36 kg/m² reduction), a 15 percent decrease in odds of obesity, a 9 percent increased likelihood of meeting weekly recommended physical activity through walking, and 11 percent higher odds of meeting recommended levels of vigorous exercise.

"Public transit systems can generate positive health impacts by encouraging greater numbers of users to walk to station stops and maintain more physically active lives. An added benefit of public policy investments in LRT, on top of the general transportation benefits accrued, is the potential reductions in obesity in the population," the authors write.

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