Obesity experts fear the rise of e-scooters could come at the cost of healthy options like walking

They are hailed as a sustainable form of transport by green advocates – and can be the bane of pedestrians as they whizz by on footpaths.

ut obesity expert Donal O’Shea has warned that he shares the concern of public health doctors on the potential impact of e-scooters, which could lead to people walking or cycling less.

The scooters may signal another part of the “creep away from physical activity in society”, he said.

Prof O’Shea was commenting after HSE public health doctors said evidence of the impact of e-scooters on health and the environment is mixed, with them creating less air and noise pollution but posing a “lost public health opportunity” if they replace walking and cycling.

Prof O’Shea, the HSE’s obesity lead, said that on the plus side, e-scooter users are in the outdoors and standing rather than sitting, but “it is not as good as walking or cycling.”

He said when you speak about obesogenic environments which can influence weight gain, it is important to “call things out”.

Dr Caitriona Kelly of the HSE’s department of public health in the north-east, writing in the Irish Medical Journalpointed to a study by doctors at Connolly Hospital in Dublin that showed that e-scooter accidents can lead to serious injuries.

She said there is a perception that e-scooters are “green” due to lack of noise pollution and tailpipe emissions.

But “the environmental impact of e-scooters depends on multiple factors such as the mode of displaced transport, e-scooter lifespan and whether rented as part of a shared scheme or privately owned,” she said.

For example, “if replacing car trips, the local air and noise pollution and overall global warming potential are reduced. However, if replacing walking, cycling or some forms of public transport, these effects are increased,” she added.

She said her public health colleagues in the HSE had made a series of recommendations. “Key among these is that further research is necessary to determine the potential benefits and limitations of e-scooter use in an Irish context and that in any new legislation, helmet-wearing should be mandatory for all users.”

The Government has proposed an amendment to the Road Traffic Act, which aims to clarify the legal status of e-scooters and propose laws that they be subject to the same that apply to cyclists where they are allowed on cycle lanes but not on footpaths or motorways, while helmets are for those under 18, but not mandatory adults.

Earlier this week it emerged that e-scooters were involved in at least 1,373 traffic incidents, including 440 collisions, in the past two-and-a-half years. More than two-thirds were reported to have happened in the Dublin region.

The collisions included some cases which were fatal and also involved serious and non-serious injuries.

Prof O’Shea said from a weight point of view the Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact.

“We have that in figures from the UK in children and young people showing a significant increase in weight and we know that translates to adults. It was an alarming increase.”

He said the pattern would have been similar here with more sedentary behavior and disordered eating.