Australian public health versus bicycle helmet laws

Australia is one of only two countries in the world which actively enforces national all-age laws that punish citizens for enjoying one of society's most frquent, healthy and safe forms of recreational exercise - bike riding.

This page displays an assortment of press clippings plus a media release concerning Australian public health.

In summary, a growing number of Australians are overweight and the country needs to do some more exercise.

As reported below, children in Western Australia are at risk of having a lower life expectancy than their parents for the first time in history - mostly because of obesity.

About 7.4 million Australians, or half of all adult women and two thirds of adult men, are overweight or obese because they are not sufficiently active, according to the Australian Heart Foundation.

Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study, published by the British Medical Journal in 2017 found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared with commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.

As reported on May 12, 2009, "The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007-08 National Health Survey, released yesterday, found that 68 per cent of adult men and 55 per cent of adult women were obese or overweight. This is an increase from the 1995 survey when 64 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women were considered overweight or obese."

The journal of the Australian Medical Association estimates as many as 17,000 Australian deaths each year can be attributed to obesity and calculates that overweight and obesity are now more prevalent risk factors for disease than smoking (see Australian Medical Journal, April 2005).

Childhood Obesity: An Economic Perspective published by the Australian Productivity Commission in September 2010 found the weight of Australian children has increased markedly in recent decades, to the point where around 8% are obese and 17% are overweight: "The relationship between physical activity and obesity may be stronger than for many of the other factors. While organised physical activity in children may not be decreasing, it appears that incidental exercise, such as walking to school, has declined." The report fails to mention that the number of Australian children walking or riding a bicycle to school has plunged from about 80% in 1977 to the current level around 5% - most of the reduction when mandatory bicycle helmet laws were enforced. bicycle helmet cave wheel cartoon

As reported in November 2011 in the Herald Sun, "Figures released today show 252,000 Victorians are known to be living with diabetes, skyrocketing from 95,000 in 2001.". Diabetes is one of the many illnesses that stem from discouragement of daily recreational exercise.

As stated by the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, "Helmet laws are very likely to have been a key contributor to Australians' decline in physical activity that has led to the obesity epidemic."

The Australian Bicycle Council, a subsidiary of the Australian Government's Department of Transport, stated in its March 2004 communique:

Bicycling is part of the solution to many of our cities problems: the obesity epidemic, traffic congestion, air pollution and more. The mainstream health message these days is that people need to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days, to maintain health. Increased incidental exercise (ie exercise that is built into 'activities of daily living') is often recommended as the best way to ensure adequate daily levels of exercise are achieved. This is because this kind of exercise is often 'maintained' (ie kept up) more consistently than, for example going to the gym or playing sport. Walking and cycling to work are two good forms of incidental exercise - no surprise there!

Cycling and health: an opportunity for positive change? (PDF 112kb) was published in April 2009 by The Medical Journal of Australia. This editorial by Public Health Professor Adrian Bauman and University of Sydney Associate Professor of Public Health Chris Rissel accurately describes the enormous public health benefits of cycling. However and as with all academic papers seeking publication in Australia, the editorial avoids mentioning the country's most significant public health disaster - helmet laws that punish people for cycling.

Consider the views of New Zealand Public Health Physician Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who presented Cycling: your health, the public's health and the planet's health (PDF file 24kb) to the New Zealand Cycling Symposium in 2000.

All research papers at least partly blame an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for Australia's obesity levels. Greater public recreational exercise is encouraged to stem a looming public health crisis.

Surveys show only about half of all men and women in Western Australia undertake the recommended levels of physical exercise.

The Premier's Physical Activity Taskforce (PDF 548KB) in Western Australia reported that the proportion of West Australian adults above a healthy weight increased from 39% in 1999 to 49% in 2006. In line with cyclist numbers reported on this site, the survey found cycling participation among West Australian adults dropped from 9% in 1999 to 8% in 2002 before returning to 9% in 2006.

Health experts say adults should undertake 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Cycling is classified as a moderate-intensity activity.

Health in Australia

The West Australian newspaper
March 16 2001

A Danish study has found that people who do not cycle to work suffer a 39% higher mortality rate than those who do. In 2008, a Toronto University study found that maintaining aerobic exercise such as cycling during middle age can delay biological ageing by up to 12 years.

The 2003 UK Cycling and Health report (PDF file, 240kb) details the major personal and public health benefits that are possible when people ride a bicycle instead of driving a car.

Cycling Promotion for Health and Fitness (RTF file, 536kb) studies the health problems suffered by the residents of Perth, Western Australia, because of the city's low cycling levels and high car dependency.

The Relationship between Transport and Health published by VicHealth in 1999 outlines just some of the public health benefits possible if more people walked or cycled instead of driving.

A 1996 West Australian government media release states that more than half of Western Australia's children stopped riding bicycles to school within five years of helmet law enforcement, and surveys show about 30% of all age groups either abandoned or reduced their enjoyment of society's most popular and healthy recreational exercise.

Health in the green economy published by the World Health Organization in 2011 explains both the public health and climate benefits that substantially outweigh injury risk if more people walked or cycled instead of driving.

Australia needs to encourage public recreational activity and exercise instead of punishing people who wish to cycle.

See our home page for data on Western Australia's reduction in cyclist numbers following helmet law enforcement, as well as evidence that the mandatory wearing of helmets has worsened injury rates among cyclists.

Australian health

The West Australian newspaper
May 8 2001

bicycle helmet laws

The West Australian newspaper
September 2 2000


helmet laws

The West Australian newspaper
April 21 2004


bicycle helmet laws

The West Australian newspaper
May 31 1996


Australia fattest nation

The West Australian newspaper
June 20 2008


Australian diabetes

The West Australian newspaper
October 8 2007


Australian public health

rissel helmets 2010

The West Australian newspaper
August 16 2010

See also Sydney Morning Herald
August 16 2010


obesity surge in australia

The West Australian newspaper
October 12 2015


fat australian children

The West Australian newspaper
November 16 2016


australian diabeisty

The West Australian newspaper
November 22 2016


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