While the idea that bicycling can be an effective means of managing one’s health (“preventive healthcare”) is likely to make perfect sense to those of us that actually bike regularly, there are, apparently, people that are unaware of that line of thought.
Thankfully, there is now a growing body of research on the subject that is making it very clear just how effective it can be. As the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted, the more that people bike or walk, the healthier they are (generally speaking). And an important point to note with regard to this is the fact that, with the improved health of the general population that increasing levels of bicycling can provide, healthcare costs can be reduced substantially.
Karin Olafson, writing for Momentum Magazine, comments on this reality, while referencing a pair of recent studies on the subject:
A study led by Dr. Thomas Götschi of the Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Zurich examined the costs and benefits of bicycling in Portland, OR. Götschi’s findings are startling: “By 2040, investments [in everyday bicycling in the USA] in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million (…) and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion.” Götschi’s study is the first cost-benefit analysis of investments in bicycling.
A study conducted by Jonathan Patz and Maggie Grabow of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked to quantify the benefits of reduced car usage in 11 metropolitan areas in the upper Midwestern United States. The study found that replacing short car trips with biking could net health benefits of $4.94 billion per year in the study area. Mortality could also decline by roughly 1,000 per year due to increased fitness levels and improved air quality.
In light of these findings, there remains resistance, mostly political, in accepting the benefits of daily bicycling as preventive health care. The Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act has set aside money for improving bicycling conditions through the Prevention and Public Health Fund. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, none of the 85 cities in the US that are actively installing better bicycle infrastructure (including protected bike lanes, trails, and bike share systems) have accessed these funds. Connecting bicycling to preventive health care in the US has yet to gain public acceptance and would draw resistance to these projects.
That last bit is a frustrating reality, given the evidence. Perception does seem to be changing in this regard though, especially amongst the younger generations. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the accompanying policy shift. :/