Bicycle Ownership Drops by Half While Obesity in California Rises by 153%


Davis-bicycling A new study released this month reveals a shocking trend: between 1989 and 2012 bicycle ownership declined by half, “from an average PBO [percentage bicycle ownership] of 60% in 1989 to 32% in 2012.” [1] Conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and published in the Journal of Transport & Health, the study analyzed data from 1.25 billion households around the world in what is considered to be the the first global study of bicycle ownership over time.

“It’s a tragedy that more than two-thirds of Generation Z are growing up in a household without a bicycle,” said Gabe Wallace, co-director of a public health campaign, My City Bikes. “This is an especially stark fact when mirrored against the simultaneous rise of one of the greatest public health crises of our time: obesity.”

While bicycle ownership has been on the decline, locally, obesity rates in California have more than doubled, from 9.9% in 1990 to 25.0% in 2012 (see Fig. 1 attached) [2].

“From a public health perspective, cycling promotes wellness, and the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks,” the study reports. Considering that each hour per day spent driving corresponds with a 6% increase in the odds of being obese [3], a shift of bicycle ownership and ridership in a positive direction is long overdue.

“In the past century both developed and developing countries have undergone rapid transitions towards motorization, which have disfavored bicycle use,” the study reports. “Increasing motorization leads to injuries from road traffic crashes, growing vehicular air pollution, and declining physical activity…The movement of people and goods by bicycle reduces vehicular air pollution and motor vehicle traffic congestion. Cycling is a key element to ‘livable cities’, it connects easily to other modes of transit, and it can stimulate local businesses via the addition of new cycling routes.”


Even though the issues of road safety, air pollution and public health seem big, they are changed one person at a time, like anything else. By owning and riding a bicycle, each Davis resident can make a difference. In Davis, B&L Bike Shop has teamed up with the public health campaign, My City Bikes, to help inexperienced riders make that change with the My City Bikes Davis app, a basic utility that provides a guide to local beginner biking, as well as need-to-know information about bike safety and maintenance. “It may seem small, but just getting out for a ride for 15 minutes or biking to the park or a friend’s house with your family instead of taking the car does make a difference,” Wallace said.

For more information about local biking and access to the free local My City Bikes Davis app, visit

The following was a press release sent out by Tina Schmidt and Sara Villalobos.

My City Bikes powered by Interbike is the first and only public health campaign for beginner cyclists. The web- and mobile- campaign benefits communities by providing simple, localized mobile resources and media advocacy to facilitate cycling. “No one is exempt from the basics of biking,” and that is why My City Bikes nurtures, supports and inspires the culture of beginners in biking. Whether for fun, fitness or transportation, My City Bikes is the official guide to beginner biking opportunities.

Along with its network of beginner-friendly bike shops and government partners, My City Bikes is connecting communities with their basic but essential beginner biking resources to empower individuals to improve their health by simply pedaling a bike. Join the biggest bike team in the world! Download your free local My City Bikes app at to find local entry-level rides, need-to-know DIY bike maintenance, and beginner-friendly bike shop experts in your neighborhood.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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50 thoughts on “Bicycle Ownership Drops by Half While Obesity in California Rises by 153%”

  1. Tia Will

    Even though the issues of road safety, air pollution and public health seem big, they are changed one person at a time like anything else.”

    As a long time participant in attempts to improve both individual and public health, I encounter repeatedly the comment that “this measure will do nothing to improve……” regarding whatever the disliked measure is.

    I want to emphasize the quoted statement. All public health improvements are made one person at a time. What may seem small initially has the ability to gather momentum as more and more individuals appreciate the wisdom of the better choice and incorporate that practice into their own lifestyle. There is a societal “tipping point” at which the new and healthier behavior becomes the societally preferred behavior. This is what we saw with cigarette use in this country. The reduction in usage did not happen over night. It happened very gradually, almost imperceptibly in the beginning with one smoker at a time choosing to stop this highly destructive habit. This is what I hope that we will see with soda consumption and with the use of one’s feet or one’s bicycle as the preferred means of transportation.

  2. Barack Palin

    Obviously, like the horse, the bicycle is becoming an outdated mode of transportation.  Yes it can be fun to ride and good for some exercise but as for the necessities of life and getting places more and more people prefer to drive.  Many things cause obesity, don’t blame it on less people using a bike.

  3. PhilColeman

    On the one hand, we have a 153% decline in bike ownership in 1.25 billion the world’s households. Got it, the numbers are really impressive.

    The column then inexplicably moves to California and readers are told our obesity rates have doubled in the same time frame. A graph is provided to further demonstrate the relationship between world bike ownership and the obesity rate in California. Conclusion: Bike ownership goes down, obesity rates go up.

    But before we accept the validity of this comparison from a such renown academic and research facility, a couple nagging questions persist.

    Does world-wide bike ownership necessarily mean that these bike owners also ride those bikes with such frequency that it reduces obesity? Based on empirical observations shared by many reading my comments, far greater numbers of bikes are permanently stored in garages than those being ridden in such frequency as to reduce obesity.

    China is the world leader in both population and bike ownership. Given the quantum leap in China’s industrialization efforts since 1989, particularly in auto ownership, it appears feasible that one country alone may have dramatically skewed that 1.25 billion household survey. Could most of that world decline in world bike ownership decline occurred in China and other countries, rather than in California?

    I urge that John Hopkins researchers design another graph, one much more relevant to the hypothesis and column title. Publish a graph comparing California obesity rates with California bike riding rates. Then we readers can better determine if this proclaimed “shocking trend” is really all that alarming.




    1. Barack Palin

      Then we readers can better determine if this proclaimed “shocking trend” is really all that alarming.

      I agree.  This article tries to sensationalize just one trend that might be one of many factors leading to an increase in obesity in an attempt to push bicycle advocacy.

  4. Tia Will

    There are certainly many ways to consider the pros and cons of various means of transportation. Here in Davis, we seem to be very concerned about the quality of our roads. I know this is a major concern for many. However, we do not seem to hear much about a related issue. We are repeatedly told that we do not utilize our space well. And yet I have yet to hear the comment that parking lots, used for nothing other than the storage, either temporary or long term of our cars are a mis-use of space. Perhaps someone more numerically adroit than I can come up with the acreage in town devoted to automobile parking, something I perceive as a tremendous waste of land more valuable for other purposes.

  5. Barack Palin

    And yet I have yet to hear the comment that parking lots, used for nothing other than the storage, either temporary or long term of our cars are a mis-use of space.

    You haven’t heard that yet because it’s not a mis-use of space.  I know you can get around without a car so you advocate that everyone else should also do as you but others in this new modern world of cars like to use ours.

  6. Tia Will


     it’s not a mis-use of space”

    As I posted yesterday on a different thread, “mis-use” of space is subjective as our posts just proved. I see spread out parking lots as misuse of space, you do not….the definition of subjective.

    Like diabetes, the comparison I was making yesterday, fatal automobile collisions, smog, lack of exercise and the attendant medical problems are not subjective. They are facts of our current life many of which are preventable if we would lessen our automobile dependence. I am not seeking a ban on either parking lots nor automobiles, but I certainly see the former as an enabler of the unhealthy aspects of the latter and as such, a misuse of space.

    1. darelldd

      Well said, Tia. At some point we’ll need to make space for *people.* Currently, and for the past 85-or-so years (meaning that this is in no way a “modern” trend, BP) we’ve been designing space for automobiles at the expense of space for people… and at the expense of people themselves.

      I cannot figure out the desire to champion car usage. As if drivers need some sort of advocacy group. The more cars we have on the road and stored in parking spaces, the worse it is for everybody – drivers and non-drivers alike. Unless, of course, death and illness, gridlock, building ever more roads, financial disaster and fighting for every parking space is the goal here.

      Cars certainly have a purpose in modern society. Why do we continue to insist on using them stupidly?

        1. Barack Palin

          Well being that people road horses, carts and buggies for thousands of years I would definitely say motor vehicle transportation is a modern trend.

  7. Biddlin

    I find Phil’s conclusion about the math pretty compelling. I don’t see vastly reduced numbers of cyclists on the streets and roads, at least in Sacotomatoes. I bicycled to work in Land Park from east Sacramento everyday for years. The benefits I derive now from the exercise then are no doubt substantial. These days, with a blown Achilles tendon and crushed L-4 and L-5 vertebrae, I find it impracticable as a regular means of transportation.  I would think that decreased use of bicycles and weight gain might be related to our aging population. (People 65+ represented 14.1% of the population in the year 2013 but are expected to grow to be 21.7% of the population by 2040, according to US Dept. Health and Human Services) Tia, do you really begrudge your neighbors parking space? Pretty petty, even for Davis. You sound more like Harrington, every post.

    1. Tia Will

      Tia, do you really begrudge your neighbors parking space? “

      No. I do not “begrudge” any one anything. I think some modes of transportation are demonstrably better for us than others. I think that having large plots of land paved over for sole use of automobiles during very limited hours, such as the Target parking lot or the campus lots, which are empty during large portions of time is a terribly inefficient use of valuable land. I believe this came about because we became enamored of the automobile as a society and could not see the associated harms. I would like for us to develop healthier means of transportation and less reliance on the least healthful.

      1. Miwok

        I would like to see traffic “engineers” try to address the problem of overcrowded roads and parking by developing alternatives.

        Downtown Davis has a unique opportunity to make it a car free environment yet move people around in that space without cars and parking. IF they have the imagination.

        Get “Innovative”! take all the parking and roads, change them from cars and trucks, to delivery only and public transportation all over Downtown, would reduce pollutants and problems with accidents.

  8. Biddlin

    ” I certainly see the former as an enabler of the unhealthy aspects of the latter and as such, a misuse of space.”

    Cars freed common people from the limitations of their geography. The automobile created mobility on a scale never known before, and the total effect on living habits and social customs is endless. In the days of horse-drawn transportation, the practical limit of wagon travel was 10 to 15 miles, so that meant any community or individual farm more than 15 miles from a city, a railroad, or a navigable waterway was isolated from the mainstream of economic and social life. Motor vehicles and paved roads have narrowed the gap between rural and urban life. Farmers can ship easily and economically by truck. In addition, such institutions as schools and hospitals are now accessible by bus and car. They provide rapid access and egress for victims of emergencies. The car is also largely responsible for increasing personal income, ( seven times over, since it’s introduction) home ownership (50%) and decreasing the cost of consumer goods and immeasurably increasing their variety. They enabled the civil rights and feminist movements.      

    They are also saviours of forests. Since they replaced horses for most farming and hauling uses, farmers converted 80 million acres of horsepasture to forests, which are far superior for wildlife and watersheds, and another 40 million acres of pasture to the production of higher-valued crops. In comparison, the 21 million or so acres of low-density suburban development that has taken place since1945 much less significant. Those who seek to reduce the amount of driving people do risk killing, or at least limiting, the automotive goose that laid the golden egg of American prosperity.




      1. darelldd

        Proper tool for the job. And proper allocation of resources for the tool.

        All transportation options have their place. Intra-city transportation by motor vehicle of healthy, able-bodied humans with little cargo is not one of those “places.”

        Maybe I’m misreading you, but it sure sounds like you’d rather have 30,000 extra automobile trips in Davis (with commensurate parking) than the 30,000 bicycle transportation trips currently being made? This would somehow advantage you in YOUR car trying to get somewhere… and trying to park somewhere? This would advantage all those who think like you? And society in general? We’d be more productive, and save trees?

        At some point we have to give a damn about finite resources.

        1. Barack Palin

          How about you ride your bike until your heart’s content and I’ll drive my car and I won’t bother bikers and you don’t bother drivers?  Somehow that’s not good enough for bicycle advocates.

  9. Biddlin

    I can’t find newer numbers than 2013, but about 750 cyclists will be killed by automobiles this year and another 50,000 will be injured in the USA.(Around 70 will die in California) Auto v. bicycle fatalities account for about 2% of automobile related accidents, nation-wide, but we double down in Cali where they make up 4%. It’s the good weather. Most (74%) casualties will be adult males. Almost 1/3 will be legally drunk. While determining fault is difficult in other than car rear ends cyclist or runs red light scenarios the few state studies I could find were all over the map but most of the contiguous, developed states seem to split blame about 50/50 between cyclists and drivers. So I applaud and caution you brave bicycle commuters.

  10. Anon

    Is the implication here that the failure to ride bikes is the cause of the increase in obesity?  One statistic may have absolutely nothing to do with the other statistic.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the implication here (according to the authors of this piece) is that we have seen a decrease in exercise and a corresponding increase of obesity.  these are “facts”  the question is whether the decline is bicycling is part of this decrease in exercise and whether the decrease in exercise caused the increase in obesity.  for that, we need additional data – for example calloric intake – has it increased as well?

  11. Frankly

    Obesity is generally caused by a person consuming more calories than burning off in physical activity.

    While I concede a low incidence in obesity for the adults I see riding a bike regularly, I think those that ride a bike regularly tend to be health-conscious people that don’t consume excess calories.  Frankly, I do not burn off many calories riding my bike to and from work.  It is a 12 minute ride.  And I can easily ruin the benefit by eating some unhealthy snacks or junk food.

    If we are looking for a correlation, I think eating habits are a much stronger connection to obesity than is the lack of bike ownership.

    If we really want to make a dent in Obesity, we would start with the younger kids to teach them how to eat well and not eat so much high-carb crap.

    I support this…

    1. Mark West

      I don’t have the data to back up this supposition, but the timelines are similar enough that it should lead to someone doing the work…

      Plot the increase in the incidence of obesity and or diabetes against the consumption of high fructose corn syrup.  I’m willing to bet that the correlation will be much stronger, and more likely causative, than bicycle ownership.  These diseases are caused by what you eat and not just by how much.

      1. Frankly

        Good point.

        But then doesn’t increase metabolism just result in greater hunger?  And if you have a bad diet exercising more might end up causing a person to gain rather than lose weight.

        I think I have to stand by my point that eating habits are key.


    2. Tia Will


      I also support that. And I support increased exercise in our daily lives including walking and biking. And I support measures intended to decrease the use of sugary beverages. And I support increased sports participation. And I support increased public transportation. I think that we need to think broadly and realize that for one individual the issue may indeed be overeating while for another it may be lack of exercise. There is no one panacea and we far more likely to succeed if we do not artificially limit ourselves to a single strategy.

  12. Alan Miller

    Helmets & Helicopters.

    Teenagers don’t like wearing helmets.  This is an unspoken factor in reduced bicycle usage in the young.

    Helicopter parents drive their kids to school because they are afraid something might happen if they don’t.  Another factor in reduced bicycle usage in the young.

    Parents driving kids to school increases the number of cars on the road near schools, increasing the likelihood of a helicopter parent running into a kid on a bicycle.  So good thing there aren’t many of them since they don’t like wearing helmets.

    So our young people are safe and obese.

    How’s that for logic?

    1. Frankly

      Take it a bit further and blame it on the women’s movement.  I would also add some blame to the Davis NIMBY, no-growth people.

      With more moms in the workplace, and with families having fewer children (because more moms are in the workplace)…. this coupled with the high cost of Davis housing means more two-income families and fewer stay at home parents that can bike their little darlings to school… and instead drop them off and pick them up to and from work.

      And with families having fewer children, they are more fretted about and fawned over.

      A little story.

      My oldest son crashed on his bike on the way riding to school after a car failed to seem him crossing the road and he had to ditch to miss it.  He was attending Emerson at the time.  He had a broken collar bone but nobody at the school paid enough attention to him to notice it.  He bit his lip for the entire day until he started to try while dragging his broken bike back home and a teacher noticed him and had him call us.  I thought my wife was going to take the entire school down for failing to notice.  He had bloody scrapes on both knees and elbows.  It should not have been difficult to see that he was injured and in a lot of pain.  But not a single teacher or admin person noticed until after school was over.

      The lesson there (one we learned was going to be the rule not the exception) that the schools did not really pay much attention to many kids, and that we did not feel safe having him transport himself there and back.

      This might also explain why other parents do not let their kids bike to and from school.

      1. Biddlin

        One s****y school. My kids inner-city schools would have called us, EMS and possibly CPS if they showed up with those kind of injuries. I think I have to call bs on Frankly, again.

        [moderator: edited. If you use certain words, your post goes into the moderation queue and gets delayed until someone passes it. So maybe try not to use those words. Thanks.

      2. Tia Will


        Take it a bit further and blame it on the women’s movement.”

        Please explain exactly how the “women’s movement” is to blame for the fact that a two income family is frequently needed to sustain a lifestyle above the poverty line ?  And why blame women? Why should it not equally be the man’s responsibility to stay home and care for the children as soon as full time breast feeding is completed. I made almost double my husband’s salary. So why not blame him for not staying home and caring for the children ?


        1. hpierce

          Sort of get the edit… fair enough… that said, can we not call out “stupid behavior”?

          Particularly when stupid behavior leads to a comment that trashes a system that is called upon to save us all from SB?

          Maybe the ‘Darwin Award’ was out of bounds… but you should look @ the genesis of the comment.

  13. hpierce

    Think, Pogo… “we have met the enemy…”  We need to encourage students to use pogo sticks to go to school… good exercise, and might be able to leap small cars in a single bound!

  14. Tia Will

    My son’s backup transportation was his skateboard or in line skates on those occasions when his bikes were stolen. There are many options other than cars. We just need to get our kids to use them.

  15. Tia Will


    How about you ride your bike until your heart’s content and I’ll drive my car and I won’t bother bikers and you don’t bother drivers?  Somehow that’s not good enough for bicycle advocates.”

    I would agree with you completely if your car and Darelldd’s bicycle took up the same amount of space, used the same amount of non renewable resources, created the same amount of pollution and were involved in the same amount of accidental injuries. But I do not believe that is the case.

  16. Al Jebra

    I would agree with you completely if your car and Darelldd’s bicycle took up the same amount of space, used the same amount of non renewable resources, created the same amount of pollution and were involved in the same amount of accidental injuries. But I do not believe that is the case.

    Barack Palin
    December 8, 2015 at 7:59 pm
    See, I was right.

    Ms Palin…you seem to be somewhat delusional.  Could you explain your comment?

  17. Tia Will


    “See, I was right.”

    About what, exactly ?  I don’t ride a bike due to a bad fall. And to be accurate about the pros and cons of various means of transportation, both your car and Darellidd’s bike use more resources and require more space than do my feet. One difference is that he will likely admit the truth of that statement, while I doubt that you will.

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