"According to the World Health Organisation, road deaths in Africa could double between 2008 and 2030. Road traffic crashes already account for more deaths than from malaria, and by 2030 road death is expected to exceed AIDS as a cause of death world-wide. [...] Road traffic crashes are estimated to cost developing countries [US]$53 billion per year, which is more than they receive in development aid."
and the Politics of Fatness (Zed: London, 2010), 107.
In short (and with various caveats and nuances), the book argues that obesity is not a problem of the obese. We are not faced with a sudden widespread loss of dietary self-control. We are collectively getting fatter (even the thin people), as measured in global and national BMI statistics, and as a result, a rapidly rising percentage of the population now fall into the medical category of obese (BMI ≥ 30). This isn't because we're eating more (we're not: calorie intake is actually declining) but because we're less physically active. And at a broad scale the strongest statistical correlation with physical inactivity is automobile use. Our reliance on the cheap energy of fossil fuels is the root of both climate change and obesity (hence the book's subtitle).
And this is where traffic mortalities and injuries make this trend self-perpetuating. The more cars on the road, the more dangerous the road becomes to pedestrians and cyclists, and the greater incentive there is to participate in a transportation arms race by purchasing a vehicle for oneself. In a given society, after a certain point of automobile use is reached, traffic mortality figures start to decline. The author, whose background is in public health associated with motor vehicle accident trauma, argues that this has relatively little to do public safety campaigns and much more to do with the fact that pedestrians and cyclists, having lost the battle, largely quit the field (or road in this case). A road thus dominated by lumps of steel and iron each hurtling along with more kinetic energy than a speeding bullet becomes a barrier to cyclists and pedestrians, and a powerful motoring lobby* ensures that "accidents" are blamed on the individuals rather than the system as a whole (in a move parallel to the gun lobby: "cars don't kill people, bad drivers and erratic pedestrians do").
*The text notes that eight of the ten largest global corporations (based on the Fortune 500 in 2008) are either oil companies or car manufacturers. And the largest is a supermarket chain, which has its own links to both fossil fuel transport and cheap food energy.
Those excluded, of course, include all children, who are then conditioned into a sedentary lifestyle from a young age.
Ironically, obesity is actually a greater health threat than cycling on dangerous roads dominated by cars and trucks.
"The overall risk of death for adults who cycle to work on a regular basis is between 10 and 30 per cent lower than for those who drive to work (Woodcock et al., 2009). This survival benefit persists after controlling for a range of factors that might differ between cyclists and motorists. In other words, even taking into account road danger, the balance of health risks and benefits is strongly in favour of cycling. Cycling in traffic may be dangerous but not cycling is more dangerous. There are consistently fewer deaths than expected from heart attacks, strokes and cancer among cycle commuters. [...] There is also evidence that the injury risks for cyclists decrease as more people take up cycling. Per kilometre, cycling is safer when there are a lots of other cyclists around. It has been estimated that a doubling in the percentage of the population that cycle results in a 34 per cent reduction in the death rate per kilometre cycled (Jacobsen, 2003). By cycling, you will improve your own health and you will help to make cycling safer for others, encouraging more to join the growing movement."
- The Energy Glut, 108.Cycling is revolutionary in more ways than one. Get on your bike.
Image by JKS.