From Hummers to SUVs, we Americans love our cars the bigger and faster the better. However the increasing rise in the cost of a gallon of gasoline has many of us taking a second look at our driving habits. Since last year the price of a gallon of regular gas has gone up 56 cents.
The automobile has shaped every facet of our lives, from where we live and work to where we play and where our children go to school. It has given us the freedom to move from one destination to another with ease and speed. Our cities have even been built around the car resulting in urban sprawl. Since mass transit has been slow to catch on in smaller towns, urban sprawl has made it nearly impossible for most of us to go anywhere without driving.
Even when car pooling or other means of shared transportation are available, we still want to take our own cars. This habit may well become a luxury if gas prices rise as high as they are in Europe. Experts are predicting that we will continue to see dramatic increases in the cost of goods and services as well as the obvious rise in gasoline prices.
Americans love for the car may be costing us more at the gas pump, but it is also taking a toll on our health. Kentucky continues to lead the country in the number of people who are overweight or obese and who also get the least amount of physical activity on a daily basis. Kentuckys children are showing the same pattern and unless the trend is reversed we may well be seeing the first generation of kids whose life expectancy is less than that of their parents.
The month of May has several national health observances centered on physical activity and wellness such as National Running and Fitness Week, May 14-20, and National Bike to Work Week, May 15-19. Both events could help us to focus on ways to reduce our dependence on gasoline while getting more physical activity. In particular, biking to work is one sure way to cut down on driving while getting exercise.
In addition biking has many other benefits, which includes exercise and stress reduction. It also helps to reduce traffic congestion and pollution, plus it is cheaper and easier to bike. You dont have to worry about finding a place to park or paying to park.
Cities are beginning to copy an idea that originated in Seattle, Washington. Yellow bikes are strategically placed around the city for anyones use. You simply take a bike that isnt being used, ride it to your destination and park it there for someone else to use.
There is not one easy or fast solution for reducing our dependency on cars, but we can begin to look for ways get around without driving.
Debbie Howes Fleming is the health education director with the Franklin County Health Department. For more information about column topics or to contact her or the FCHD Community Health Education team, call 564-5559 or visit the websites FCHD.org.