Here’s another study that shows free transportation is a way to fight obesity. Do you really lose that much money giving older adults a free ride?
Giving free bus passes to the elderly may help ward off obesity, indicates research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Since 2006, people aged 60 and above in England have been entitled to free off-peak travel on local buses. In 2009, the estimated cost of this perk was put at Stg£943 million (€1,076m).
The UK government is now planning to axe subsidised coach travel for this age group in a bid to save money.
The research team analysed three waves of data involving around 9,000 people each year from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing for 2004, 2006 and 2008, to find out if use of public transport had changed and if this had had any impact on weight.
National data from 2008 for England suggested that 70 per cent of those aged 65 years and older are overweight/obese and that fewer than one in five meet government recommendations on physical activity.
Previous US research has shown that users of public transport walk for an average of 19 minutes as part of their daily commute and that more than one in four (29 per cent) of public transport users clock up their recommended levels of daily physical activity from this source alone.
The researchers found that eligibility for a bus pass seemed to boost the use of public transport, overall.
Those who were eligible for the perk were 51 per cent more likely to use public transport than those who were not yet eligible.
Older people who used public transport or who took advantage of the bus pass were 25 per cent less likely to be obese in 2008 than those who did not.
They were also more than 20 per cent less likely to become obese between 2004 and 2008.
Although waistlines thickened in all the groups between 2004 and 2008, irrespective of whether they used public transport or not, the greatest increases were seen among those whose use of public transport did not increase.
Also, increases in weight and waistline were greater among those not eligible for a bus pass.
“Concessionary schemes, such as free local bus travel for older people, have an impact upon use of public transport and consequently on population health. These schemes should be protected in future policy,” concluded the authors.
J Epidemiol Community Health (2011). doi:10.1136/jech.2011.133165.