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Cycling benefits 77 times greater than the risks

According to new research published in the British Medical Journal, the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by a ratio of 77 to 1. If only the risks of injury are taken into account (cyclists are also exposed to air pollution), then the benefit ratio rises to an incredible 415 to 1.

The research was based on 181,982 subscribers to the very successful Bicing public cycle hire scheme in Barcelona and compared the risks to cyclists with those to car users in the same busy urban area. The World Health Organisation's Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) was used to evaluate the benefits.

Compared with car users the estimated annual change in mortality of the Barcelona residents using Bicing was 0.03 deaths from road traffic incidents and 0.13 deaths from air pollution. As a result of physical activity, 12.46 deaths were avoided (benefit:risk ratio 77). The net annual number of deaths avoided was 12.28. Also, as a result of journeys by Bicing, annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9,062,344 kg.

Speaking on BBC Radio, Professor Nieuwenhuijsen explained that the research found cycling to be very low risk, even after negative factors such as pollution and crashes were taken into account. What's more, the professor noted, "no one in Barcelona wears helmets".

The research provides good evidence for introducing bike rental schemes in more cities. In Barcelona, 11% of the population subscribes to Bicing and there has been a 30% increase in trips by bike.

Thu 4 Aug 2011

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