I have been in Europe for about 10 years now & when I first arrived, I was startled by the very high price of gas.  What I quickly realized was that, for the most part, good public transport is widely available and cities are pretty compact…so people often offset the higher prices by walking more and driving less.

Over the years, when I would return to the US for visits, it felt like people were driving more and walking even less.   When I would return, it seemed like everything had morphed into “drive through”.  Sure, we had always had drive through fast food joints, but drive through cleaners??  It felt as if you could seriously do anything and everything via some type of drive though service.  At the same time, obesity seemed to become a bigger issue in the US.

So, it was interesting to read an article in Wired magazine about a guy named Charles Courtemanche, an assistant economics professor at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.  Charles asserts that rising fuel prices are the ultimate crash diet for a nation that grew fat on cheap gas.

Below is an excerpt from Wired (article from Chuck Squatriglia)

Courtemanche compared 20 year’s worth of government health surveys to fuel prices. The percentage of American adults considered obese doubled to nearly one-third between 1979 and 2004, and Courtemache says 8 percent of the increase can be attributed to low fuel prices. “Cheaper gas during that period made us fat,” he told Wired.com. “Presumably, the opposite would be true.

Courtemanche says a $1 increase in the price of gasoline could cut the obesity rate by 10 percent, saving 16,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs each year. He makes the case in “A Silver Lining? The Connection Between Gasoline Prices and Obesity,” his doctoral dissertation in health economics. The paper, currently being peer-reviewed, can be summed up in the simple idea that people walk more, bike more and dine out less when gas prices rise.

Evidence suggests he’s on to something.

His number-crunching suggests a permanent $1 increase in gasoline prices could cut the obesity rate by 10 percent within seven years. The number of Americans who are overweight, but not obese, could fall by 7 percent in that time, he says, as people shun cars in favor of walking, biking or taking mass transit. Granted, you don’t burn many calories sitting on the bus, but you burn quite a few walking to and from the bus stop, he says. People also tend to eat out less frequently, opting instead to cook their own meals. “These results suggest that the recent spike in gas prices may have the ‘silver lining’ of reducing obesity in the coming years,” he writes in the paper.

Photo from Flickr by Jen-the-librarian