Health activists spend a lot of time finger wagging at little changes (higher trans fat consumption, lower food prices, etc.) supposedly responsible for big waistlines. But the criticism is misplaced. Their healthier-than-thou diet recommendations generally ignore the main contributor to weight-gain: physical inactivity. London’s Guardian newspaper reported today that new research attributes obesity more to over-driving than over-eating:

[E]xcessive car use is a greater contributor to obesity than excessive cake consumption … [I]n the last 30 years – when all but 19 percent of households have become car owners – the amount of time we spend walking has decreased, from 67 hours per person per year to 47, while time spent driving has increased precipitously, from 91 to 151 hours per driver per year.

The group responsible for the research, the Institute for European Environmental Policy, determined that if every person would walk the average distance covered by people without cars, "the rising tide of obesity can be almost halted."

Lead researcher Dr Adrian Davis implies the automobile/obesity link is undeniable common sense, "as walking is the most obvious way for most people to burn calories." In regard to the much hyped nutrition-related initiatives pushed by food cops — Twinkie taxes, menu labeling, and restaurant zoning — the report ranks transportation far and wide ahead of diet’s relative importance to obesity:

Much of the focus of discussion to date has been centred on food as the driving force at the root of [the obesity] epidemic … [M]ore recent data suggests that average energy intake actually fell by approximately 20 per cent between 1974 and 2004. Even allowing for under-reporting, this finding gives further credence to the thesis that the dramatic decline in physical activity post World War II is the dominant factor at work in the obesity epidemic.