This project will identify different Road User Charging, options and estimate their impacts on travel behaviours and health outcomes in local areas, as well as how these might be different across different groups of people.
April 2019 -March 2022
People who walk and cycle to work are at reduced risk of early death or illness compared with those who commute by car.
These are the findings of a study of over 300,000 commuters in England and Wales, by SPHR researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge.
The study, published in Lancet Planetary Health, used Census data to track the same people for up to 25 years, between 1991-2016.
The findings suggest, compared with those who drove, those who cycled to work had a 24 per cent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attack and stroke) during the study period, a 16 per cent reduced rate of death from cancer, and an 11 per cent reduced rate of a cancer diagnosis. Walking to work was associated with a 7 per cent reduced rate in cancer diagnosis, compared to those who drive.
Walking to work was associated with a 7 per cent reduced rate in cancer diagnosis, compared to those who drive. Associations with other outcomes were less certain, potentially due to the fact that people who walk to work are on average less affluent than drivers and are more likely to have other underlying conditions which could not be fully accounted for.
Dr Richard Patterson from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge who led the research said: “As large numbers of people return to work following the COVID-19 lockdown, it is a good time for everyone to rethink their transport choices. With severe and prolonged limits in public transport capacity likely, switching to private car use would be disastrous for our health and the environment. Encouraging more people to walk and cycle will help limit the longer-term consequences of the pandemic.”
The study also assessed whether the benefits differed between socioeconomic groups and found that potential health benefits were similar across these groups.
The team used data from the UK Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study of England and Wales, a dataset that links data from several sources including the Census of England and Wales, and registrations of death and cancer diagnoses.
The data revealed overall 66 per cent of people drove to work, 19 per cent used public transport, 12 per cent walked, and 3 per cent cycled. Men were more likely than women to drive or cycle to work, but were less likely to use public transport or walk.
Dr Anthony Laverty, senior author from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London explained: “It’s great to see that the government is providing additional investment to encourage more walking and cycling during the post-lockdown period. While not everyone is able to walk or cycle to work, the government can support people to ensure that beneficial shifts in travel behaviour are sustained in the longer term. Additional benefits include better air quality which has improved during lockdown and reduced carbon emissions which is crucial to address the climate emergency.”
The benefits of cycling and walking are well-documented but use of Census data in this new study allowed large numbers of people to be followed up for a longer time. These analyses were unable to account for differences in participants’ dietary intakes, adiposity, smoking or other physical activity. However, these findings are compatible with evidence from other studies.
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research. This research relates to the NIHR SPHR study: Road User Charging: will local policy innovation improve population health and reduce inequalities?.
‘Associations between commute mode, cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality in England and Wales: a cohort study using linked Census data over 25 years’ by Patterson et al. is published in Lancet Planetary Health.