Cycling Deaths: Down for Kids, but Up for Adults; New Debate About Trans Fats and Heart Disease

Children today are far less likely to ride their bicycles to schools than they were in the 1970s, and that has been a major factor in the sharp decline of cycling deaths among kids over the past four decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of cycling deaths among American children under the age of 15 has plummeted 92 percent since 1975, says a new report from the CDC. Overall, the total rate of cycling deaths in the U.S. declined 44 percent from 1975 to 2012. The decline was driven entirely by fewer deaths of kids.

Adults are increasingly commuting on bicycles, and that growing trend has actually pushed the adult cycling-death rate higher over the same period.

The CDC reports emphasizes that fewer cycling deaths is not the result of safer roads.

“The decline in bicyclist mortality among children might be attributable to fewer child bicycle trips rather than a result of safer road conditions,” the CDC says. “Increased use of helmets among children might also have contributed to reduced child bicyclist mortality over the study period.”

In 1969, 48 percent of American kids in kindergarten through 8th grade biked or walked to school. By 2009, that rate was just 13 percent, according to data in a 2011 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The trend is moving the other way among adults, especially cycling commuters.

“Recent years have seen the largest increase in bicycling; for instance, during 2000–2012, the number of U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased 61 percent,” says the CDC.

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Study Links Trans Fats to Higher Heart Risk, But Clears Saturated Fats

When it comes to death and heart disease, trans fats represent a far greater health risk than saturated fats, according to a study recently published in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal.

“The study confirms previous suggestions that industrially produced trans fats might increase the risk of coronary heart disease and calls for a careful review of dietary guidelines for these nutrients,” according to a BMJ news release about the trans fat study.

People who consume a higher amount of trans fats face a 20 percent to 30 percent increased risk of death from heart disease and related conditions, according to the study.

Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats for short) are industrially processed or hydrogenated plant oils. Trans fats are typically used to produce snack foods, margarine and packaged baked goods.

Animal products are the primary source of saturated fats, and this category includes meat, butter, cows’ milk, egg yolks and salmon. Plant-based sources of saturated fats include chocolate and palm oils.

“Saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes,” the study reports.

To analyze the related risks, Canadian researchers reviewed data from several existing studies. Their analysis did not find a link between high intakes of saturated fats and diseases linked to coronary heart disease. But diets featuring large amounts of trans fat carried elevated risks:

  • All-cause mortality: 34 percent increased risk for high-trans fat diets.
  • Fatal coronary heart disease: 28 percent increased risk.
  • Coronary heart disease 21 percent increased risk.

More research is needed to determine the cause-effect relationship between trans fat and heart disease, the scientists said.

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