Especially in the summer of 2008, we saw a large spike in gas prices that caused a large panic among driving Americans and economists. In July 2008, crude oil returned a record $ 147 per barrel and the average price was as high as $ 4.11 per gallon. This huge jump caused many people to cancel summer trips and even consider alternative methods of transportation.
Sometimes prices stabilized and fell back down to reasonable and affordable levels for average Americans. Rising prices are obviously a financial strain for many, however, data shows that price hikes are not necessarily all that bad. Here's a look at how rising gas prices has a positive health effect on a fundamental portion of America.
As mentioned in a previous article, nearly 33% of all Americans are obese and thus face risk of serious health problems. Health economists have found that there is a reason to believe why rising gas prices actually help America's problem of obesity. Economist Charles Courtemanche of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro conducted a study in 2008 to demonstrate the link between the price of gas and obesity.
According to data analysis by Courtemanche, a one dollar increase in gas prices would decrease obesity rates by about 7-10% in seven years. This is the equivalent to saving 11,000 lives and nearly $ 11 billion per year. Essentially, as gas prices increases, day-to-day transportation costs increase and less income is available for families. Therefore, with more strict budgets, Americans are forced to become frugal and consider alternative methods of transportation, along with other changes.
Many Americans have stopped using their gas-guzzling vehicles in exchange for walking or biking to their destination. Even if public transportation is utilized, people are still walking extra to move from stop to stop. This is obviously a positive effect because it encourages more physical activity and exercise. Also with regards to financial strain, Americans are forced to eat at home rather than dining out. Because home prepared food is often healthier, Americans are taking on better dieting habits, often times unknowingly.
Courtemanche's data shows that the average person walks an average of 0.5 more times a week when gas prices increase by $ 1. Statistical analysis also shows that a $ 1 increase in gas prices decrements BMI by .66 units within three years by the change in walking. At the average height, this equates to about 4.3 pounds.
Although high prices are a financial burden, they cause many of us to change our daily habits for the good. Hopefully many people get used to the new lifestyle and stick to unhealthy diets even when gas prices fall. Therefore, not only is the rise in gas prices a positive externality for the environment because of less pollution and congestion, but also for the health of Americans.
Additional quantitative analysis and more detailed results can be found in the paper entitled "A Silver Lining? The Connection between Gasoline Prices and Obesity" by Charles Courtemanche.