Transport the key to health

21 Jan 2015

A new study looking at the impact of travel in Melbourne on health has found getting the outer suburbs walking could save up to 900 lives and $35 million per annum.

The study looked at how people travel and the likelihood of people gaining sufficient exercise (30 minutes five times per week) through their transport choices.  Adequate physical activity was achieved by 12.6% of private vehicle users, 60.3% of public transport users, 58.3% of walkers and 80.2% of cyclists.

The study also confirmed that the walkability of the neighbourhood has a huge impact.  Sufficient physical activity through transport was achieved by 33.3% of inner city dwellers, compared to 23.5% in inner suburbs, 15.4% in middle suburbs and just 9.5% in the outer suburbs. Overall, only 15.1% of Melbourne's population gets adequate exercise through travel, about the same as Sydney but less than in the UK (18.6%) and half that of Germany (29%).

People without vehicle access, secondary and tertiary students were more likely to get adequate exercise through transport, while people with company cars were less likely to.

The study includes some conservative economic modelling of the benefits if more people used active transport.  If the 1.5 million people living in Melbourne's outer suburbs achieved the same level of exercise through transport as inner suburban residents, or (perhaps less realistically) inner city residents, the gains would be:

  • 160 deaths avoided per annum (272 if inner city exercise rates achieved)
  • 531 disease cases avoided per annum (inner city 903)
  • Productivity gains of $13.5 million per annum (inner city $22.9 million)
  • Health sector cost reduction of $7.2 million (inner city $12.2 million).

The study was based on analysis of the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity, which surveyed 11,432 households across Melbourne, in 2007 and 2008.

The study is reported in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia ($25 to purchase) and media including The Age.