A growing number of academic studies indicate that there is a strong correlation between the use of public transportation and physical well-being.

In addition to reducing traffic congestion and associated environmental impacts, public transportation can also significantly improve the average health levels of urban commuters.

A new study scheduled for publication in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health has found that people who use public transportation in lieu of driving to work are less likely to be overweight.

The study, led by Adam Martin of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, examined the data for more than 4,000 adults provided by the British Household Panel Survey for the period between 2004 and 2007.

The survey asked respondents their means of commuting to work at three separate times throughout the three-year period, enabling researchers to identify correlations between modes of transportation and variations in weight.

Martin’s study found respondents who used commuting methods such as walking, cycling and public transportation had an average body mass index score that was 0.32 points lower than the figure for people who drove to and from their place of work.

While this is only a modest weight difference, the statistical disparity becomes more pronounced as commuting times increase. When commuting times are greater than half an hour, the average weight reduction increases to 2.25 BMI units, equivalent to roughly seven kilograms.

According to Professor Chris Rissel from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, the regular usage of public transportation improves commuter health because of the extra physical exertion that it involves.

“The benefits of increased public transportation are related to increases in physical activity – walking or cycling to bus stops and train stations,” said Rissel.

Rissel is the co-author of a study released in 2012 entitled Physical Activity Associated with Public Transport Use, which found that there is a strong correlation between the use of public transportation and increased levels of physical activity.

“Government guidelines in Australia state that 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity is required to maintain the health of the average adult, which translates into a minimum of 30 minutes a day,” said Rissel. “The use of public transportation can help people reach this minimum because of the distances between destinations that must be covered on foot.

“These increases in physical activity can have a range of health benefits, including reduced risk of chronic disease and improvements to mental health.”

When widespread usage of public transportation translates into gains in average health levels, this can have a dramatic impact on medical costs which comprise such a significant portion of government spending.

While Tony Abbott is pushing for the construction of a greater number of roadways in the country as Australia’s self-designated “infrastructure Prime Minister,” Rissel says this is to the detriment of public transportation system that bring demonstrable benefits to general health.

“The transportation authorities of Australia place an undue emphasis upon roads and road building, and this is taking away money from public transportation projects – particularly costly undertakings like light rail,” he said. “When public transportation exists people use it – people are receptive to it as long as they’re given the option.”