Randy Rzewnicki, PhD, ECF, Health and environment, 27.05.2015
A systematic review of studies on active transportation showed evidence that a mode shift to active transport resulted in reductions in all-cause mortality, CVD, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, cancer, falls or impaired mental health. It’s the first time that studies conducting quantitative health impact assessment of a mode shift to active transportation were systematically reviewed.
Many of us have known it all along, and now we have strong evidence to back it up: active transport, or walking and cycling to you and me, provides substantial net health benefits. This is a systematic review of 28 studies, from around the world published in the last 15 years. Even in the dry words of a top research journal the results are impressive for Active Transportation, or AT as they call it:
“All 28 studies obtained estimates for PA with a mode shift to AT that resulted in reductions in all-cause mortality, CVD, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, cancer, falls, or impaired mental health.” – Mueller ea 2015
One of the problems with our modern world is that individual pieces of research which show some surprising result are made public in the press. Which itself is not a problem. What is problematic is that people who are not scientists don’t know what to do with the information. It’s often confusing and may even contribute to a devaluing of research and science in the eyes of the general public.
These results do not suffer from that problem because it looked systematically at all the published research from 2001 to now. And not just in English, as often is the case. They also reviewed studies in Spanish, Dutch, French and German.
First time such study
It’s the first time that studies conducting quantitative health impact assessment of a mode shift to active transportation were systematically reviewed.
They found that the risks (including crashes and air pollution) were much, much smaller than the benefits that people got from switching from car use to walking and cycling.
“benefits were largely due to increases in PA levels, which greatly outweighed associated detrimental effects of traffic incidents and air pollution exposure… … Estimated health risks by traffic incidents are minor compared with health benefits gained by PA.” – Mueller ea 2015
Natalie Mueller is the lead author on this ground-breaking article, working together with co-authors David Rojas-Rueda, Tom Cole-Hunter, Audrey de Nazelle, Evi Dons, Regine Gerike, Thomas Götschi, Luc Int Panis, Sonja Kahlmeier, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen.
One of the co-authors is Regine Gerike who is part of the team at BOKU leading the SWITCH project. SWITCH Travel is an EU – funded project,- providing practical resources encouraging the Switch from short car journeys to walking and cycling and thus to help reduce urban car traffic. Composed of an enthusiastic group of experts and lead cities from across Europe, SWITCH Travel combines practical expertise; a clear and transferable methodology; and tried and tested examples of locally effective campaigns. ECF is partner in SWITCH.
The research was supported by the European project Physical Activity through Sustainable Transportation Approaches (PASTA), which has partners in London, Rome, Antwerp, Orebro, Vienna, Zurich, and Barcelona.
PASTA (http://www.pastaproject.eu/home/) is a four-year project funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework.
Co-authors Prof. Gerike and Thomas Götschi are members of the ECF’s Scientists for Cycling group. The “Scientists for Cycling” network is designed to bridge the gap between academics working on cycling related fields. Further information on the network and network membership here webpage.
Please cite the article as: Mueller, N., et al., Health impact assessment of active transportation: A systematic review, Prev. Med. (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.04.010
Europe-wide researchThe Health Economic Assessment Tool, or HEAT was used in 7 of the studies that were reviewed. Co-author Dr Sonja Kahlmeier is one of the experts who has been working closely with WHO on HEAT since its inception. More info on HEAT here