Objective: Dependence on motorized forms of transportation may contribute to the worldwide obesity epidemic. Shifts in transportation patterns occurring in China provide an ideal opportunity to study the association between vehicle ownership and obesity. Our objective was to determine whether motorized forms of transportation promote obesity.
Research Methods and Procedures: A multistage random-cluster sampling process was used to select households from eight provinces in China. Data were included on household vehicle ownership and individual anthropometric and sociodemographic status. Cross-sectional data (1997) from 4741 Chinese adults aged 20 to 55 years were used to explore the association between vehicle ownership and obesity. Cohort data (1989 to 1997) from 2485 adults aged 20 to 45 years in 1989 (59% follow-up) were used to measure the impact of vehicle acquisition on the odds of becoming obese.
Results: Our main outcome measure was current obesity status and the odds of becoming obese over an 8-year period. In 1997, 84% of adults did not own motorized transportation. However, the odds of being obese were 80% higher (p < 0.05) for men and women in households who owned a motorized vehicle compared with those who did not own a vehicle. Fourteen percent of households acquired a motorized vehicle between 1989 and 1997. Compared with those whose vehicle ownership did not change, men who acquired a vehicle experienced a 1.8-kg greater weight gain (p < 0.05) and had 2 to 1 odds of becoming obese.
Discussion: Encouraging active forms of transportation may be one way to protect against obesity.