Health Benefits of Walking and Bicycling
A Bay Area study quantifying the public health benefits of green transportation choices is getting some important national exposure. The online version of the American Journal of Public Health today released findings from a study looking at the public health benefits potentially accruing to the San Francisco Bay Area from campaigns to steer commuters away from driving and toward walking and bicycling, modes that in the planning sphere are grouped together under the term “active transportation.”
The study was an international effort involving four California researchers: Sean Co, a planner for active transportation with the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC); Neil Maizlish, PhD, epidemiologist for the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento; and Amir Fanai and David Fairley, PhD, with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco.
This multidisciplinary team from California hooked up with researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) in the United Kingdom, based at the Institute of Public Health in Cambridge, who provided the health impact modeling tool (ITHIM) cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/research/modelling/ithim/.
MTC’s Sean Co provided travel data for the computerized model that analyzed the cumulative positive public health impacts of en masse changes in commuting behavior, also soliciting input from MTC’s advisory committee, the Active Transportation Working Group, on assumptions about potential levels of bicycle and pedestrian travel in the Bay Area, and writing portions of the paper. In January of 2012, Co presented findings from the study to the prestigious Transportation Research Board. Co also has presented the findings at the Active Living Research Conference in San Diego, UC Davis and the ProWalk ProBike conference, and together with co-author Maizlish presented findings at the October 2012 American Public Health Association Meeting. The American Public Health Association publishes the American Journal of Public Health, which will include the Bay Area study in its April 2013 printed issue.
Titled “Health Cobenefits and Transportation-Related Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the San Francisco Bay Area,” the article looks at how ongoing efforts in the Bay Area to reduce reliance on automobiles might produce beneficial side effects for the region’s public health. By relying more on their own two legs and less on four-wheeled vehicles, Bay Area residents would see measurable reductions in chronic conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes — as well as a reduction in premature deaths. Almost all of the public health benefits (99 percent, in fact) are attributable to increased physical activity levels rather than to decreased air pollution.
According to a draft of the article available before publication, “…risk reduction from chronic disease of the magnitude suggested by (this research) would rank among the most notable public health achievements in the modern era, (and) reduce the estimated $34 billion annual cost in California from cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions such as obesity.”
“This research is pretty cutting edge, and is attracting a lot of notice around the country,” Co said.
To see the full study, go to: American Journal of Public Health ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300939.