New South Wales Public Health Bulletin New South Wales Public Health Bulletin Society
Supporting public health practice in New South Wales

The co-benefits for health of investing in active transportation

Billie Giles-Corti A D , Sarah Foster A , Trevor Shilton B and Ryan Falconer C

A Centre for the Built Environment and Health, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia

B Heart Foundation of Australia, Perth

C FormerlyA, now Sinclair Knight Merz, Perth

D Corresponding author. Email:

NSW Public Health Bulletin 21(6) 122-127
Published: 16 July 2010


Amid growing concerns about the impact of rising obesity and physical inactivity levels, climate change, population growth, increasing traffic congestion and declining oil supplies, multiple sectors are now promoting active transportation as an alternative to driving. This paper considers the health benefits and co-benefits of investing in active transportation, enabling comparison of policy options to optimise societal objectives aimed at creating healthy, socially and environmentally sustainable communities. Policies promoting the use of both energy-efficient motor vehicles and increased active transportation would almost double the impact on greenhouse gas emissions and would reduce disease burden by increasing physical activity. More co-benefit and economic analyses research is required to inform ‘joined-up’ policy solutions.


[1]  Woodcock JBanister DEdwards PPrentice AMRoberts I2007Energy and transport.Lancet370107888doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61254-9Pubmed Abstract

[2]  National Public Health Partnership. Promoting active transport: an intervention portfolio to increase physical activity as a means of transport. Melbourne: NPHP; 2001. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[3]  Villanueva KGiles-Corti BMcCormack G2008Achieving 10 000 steps: a comparison of public transport users and drivers in a university setting.Prev Med47333841doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.03.005Pubmed Abstract

[4]  Transportation Research Board. Does the built environment influence physical activity? Examining the evidence, TRB Special Report 282. Washington, DC: TRB; 2005. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[5]  National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Promoting or creating built or natural environments that encourage and support physical activity. NICE; 2008. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[6]  Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Position statement: the built environment, physical activity, heart disease and stroke. Ottawa, Canada: HSF Canada; 2007. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[7]  Heart Foundation. Position statement: the built environment and walking. Melbourne: National Heart Foundation of Australia; 2009. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[8]  Department of Transport and Department of Health UK. Active Travel Strategy. London: Department of Transport; 2010. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[9]  Kopelman PJebb SAButland B2007Executive summary: Foresight ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices’ project.Obes Rev8Suppl 1viixdoi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2007.00344.xPubmed Abstract

[10]  National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. National Preventative Health Strategy – the roadmap for action. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2009. Available from:$File/nphs-roadmap.pdf (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[11]  Billante V. Health promotion and sustainability through environmental design: A guide for planning. Christchurch: City of Christchurch; 2009. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[12]  Harten NOlds T2004Patterns of active transport in 11–12 year old Australian children.Aust N Z J Public Health2816772doi:10.1111/j.1467-842X.2004.tb00931.xPubmed Abstract

[13]  Bradshaw R2001School children’s travel – the journey to school.Geography86778

[14]  French SStory MJeffery R2001Environmental influences on eating and physical activity.Annu Rev Public Health2230935
doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.22.1.309Pubmed Abstract

[15]  Panter JRJones APvan Sluijs EM2008Environmental determinants of active travel in youth: A review and framework for future research.Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act53448doi:10.1186/1479-5868-5-34Pubmed Abstract

[16]  van der Ploeg HPMerom DCorpuz GBauman A2008Trends in Australian children traveling to school 1971–2003: Burning petrol or carbohydrates?Prev Med461602doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2007.06.002Pubmed Abstract

[17]  Woodward A, Lindsay G. Changing modes of travel in New Zealand cities. In: Howden-Chapman P, Stuart K, Chapman R, editors. Sizing up the city – Urban form and transport in New Zealand. Wellington: New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities centred at University of Otago; 2010.

[18]  World Health Organization. Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2009. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[19]  World Health Organization. Obesity. Preventing and managing the global epidemic. WHO Technical Report Series 894. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2000. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[20]  Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez AD. The burden of disease and injury in Australia, 2003. Canberra: AIHW; 2007. Contract No.: PHE82. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[21]  World Health Organization. Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2004. May 2004; Report No.: WHA57.17. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[22]  Armstrong T, Bauman A, Davies J. Physical activity patterns of Australian adults. Results of the 1999 National Physical Activity Survey. Canberra: AIHW; 2000. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[23]  World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. Geneva: WHO; 2006. Contract No.: Fact sheet 311. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[24]  AIHW. O’Brien K, Webbie K. Health, wellbeing and body weight: characteristics of overweight and obesity in Australia, 2001. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2004. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[25]  Booth MWake MArmstrong TChey THesketh KMathur S2001The epidemiology of overweight and obesity among Australian children and adolescents 1995–97.Aust N Z J Public Health2521629doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2001.tb01840.xPubmed Abstract

[26]  Stephenson J, Bauman A. The cost of illness attributable to physical inactivity in Australia. Canberra: CDHAC and Australian Sports Commission; 2000. Available from:$FILE/phys_costofillness.pdf (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[27]  Andersen LBSchnohr PSchroll MHein HO2000All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work.Arch Intern Med16016218doi:10.1001/archinte.160.11.1621

[28]  Matthews CEJurj ALShu XOLi HLYang GLi Qet al.2007Influence of exercise, walking, cycling, and overall nonexercise physical activity on mortality in Chinese women.Am J Epidemiol16512134350doi:10.1093/aje/kwm088Pubmed Abstract

[29]  Voss CSandercock G2010Aerobic fitness and mode of travel to school in English schoolchildren.Med Sci Sports Exerc4222817doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181b11bdcPubmed Abstract

[30]  Bassett DRJPucher JBuehler RThompson DLCrouter SE2008Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia.J Phys Act Health56795814Pubmed Abstract

[31]  Frank LDSallis JFConway TLChapman JESaelens BEBachman W2006Many pathways from land use to health: Associations between neighborhood walkability and active transportation, body mass index, and air quality.J Am Plann Assoc7217587doi:10.1080/01944360608976725

[32]  Frumkin H, Frank L, Jackson R. Urban sprawl and public health: designing, planning and building for healthy communities. Washington DC: Island Press; 2004.

[33]  Riediker MWilliams RDevlin RGriggs TBromberg P2003Exposure to particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and other air pollutants inside patrol cars.Environ Sci Technol3710208493doi:10.1021/es026264yPubmed Abstract

[34]  Roemer Wvan Wijnen J2001Daily mortality and air pollution along busy streets in Amsterdam, 1987–1998.Epidemiology12664953doi:10.1097/00001648-200111000-00012Pubmed Abstract

[35]  Zhu YHinds WKim SSiontas C2002Concentration and size distribution of ultra-fine particles near a major highway.J Air Waste Manage Assoc52103242

[36]  Elsom D. Smog alert: managing urban air quality. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd; 1996.

[37]  Dickens C. In-car particle exposure. London: Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions; May 2000.

[38]  Rank JFolke JJesperson P2001Differences in cyclists and car drivers exposure to air pollution from traffic in the city of Copenhagen.Sci Total Environ2791316
doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(01)00758-6Pubmed Abstract

[39]  Leyden KM2003Social capital and the built environment: the importance of walkable neighborhoods.Am J Public Health939154651doi:10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1546Pubmed Abstract

[40]  Lund H2002Pedestrian environments and sense of community.J Plann Educ Res21330112doi:10.1177/0739456X0202100307

[41]  Wood LGiles-Corti B2008Is there a place for social capital in the psychology of health and place?J Environ Psychol28215463doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.11.003

[42]  McNeill LHKreuter MWSubramanian SV2006Social environment and physical activity: a review of concepts and evidence.Soc Sci Med634101122doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.03.012Pubmed Abstract

[43]  Halpern D. Social Capital. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; 2005.

[44]  Jacobs J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. London: Jonathon Cape; 1961.

[45]  Loukaitou-Sideris A1999Hot spots of bus stop crime: the importance of environmental attributes.J Am Plann Assoc654395411doi:10.1080/01944369908976070

[46]  Gleeson BRandolph B2002Social Disadvantage and Planning in the Sydney Context.Urban Policy Res2011017doi:10.1080/08111140220131636

[47]  Currie GRichardson TSmyth PVella-Brodrick DHine JLucas Ket al.2009Investigating links between transport disadvantage, social exclusion and well-being in Melbourne – Preliminary results.Transp Policy16397105doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2009.02.002

[48]  Kahn R, Kobayashi SS, Beuthe M, Gasca J, Greene D, Lee DS et al. Transport and its infrastructure. In: Metz B, Davidson O, Bosch P, Dave R, Meyer L, editors. Climate change 2007: Mitigation contribution of working group III to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; 2007.

[49]  Newman P, Kenworthy J. Sustainability and cities: overcoming automobile dependence. Washington DC: Island Press; 1999.

[50]  Ewing R, Bartholomew K, Winkelman S, Walters J, Chen D, McCann B et al. Growing Cooler: the evidence on urban development and climate change. Urban Land Institute; 2007.

[51]  United Nations Population Fund. State of world population 2007. Unleashing the potential of urban growth. UNFPA; 2008. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[52]  Han JHayashi Y2008Assessment of private car stock and its environmental impacts in china from 2000 to 2020.Trans ResPart D134718

[53]  Medibank Private. The cost of physical inactivity. Canberra; October 2008. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[54]  Colagiuri SLee CMColagiuri RMagliano DShaw JEZimmet PZet al.2010The cost of overweight and obesity in Australia.Med J Aust19252604Pubmed Abstract

[55]  Access Economics. The growing cost of obesity in 2008: Three years on Melbourne: Diabetes Australia; 2008.

[56]  Access Economics. The shifting burden of cardiovascular disease in Australia. National Heart Foundation of Australia; 2005.

[57]  Allender SFoster CScarborough PRayner M2007The burden of physical activity-related ill health in the UK.J Epidemiol Community Health6143448doi:10.1136/jech.2006.050807Pubmed Abstract

[58]  Allender SRayner M2007The burden of overweight and obesity-related ill health in the UK.Obes Rev8546773doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2007.00394.xPubmed Abstract

[59]  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Health expenditure Australia 2007–08. Health and Welfare Expenditure Series 37. Canberra: AIHW; 2008. Contract No.: Cat. No. HWE 46. Available from: (Accessed 3 May 2010.)

[60]  Mohan DTiwari D1999Sustainable transport systems, linkages between environmental issues. Public transport, non-motorised transport and safety.Econ Politic WlyXXXIV25158096

[61]  Younger MMorrow-Almeida HRVindigni SMDannenberg AL2008The Built Environment, Climate Change, and Health Opportunities for Co-Benefits.Am J Prev Med35551726
doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2008.08.017Pubmed Abstract

[62]  Rissel CE2009Active travel: a climate change mitigation strategy with co-benefits for health.N S W Public Health Bull201–2103doi:10.1071/NB08043Pubmed Abstract

[63]  Transport for London. Central London congestion charging. Fourth annual report. London: Transport for London; 2006.

[64]  Woodcock JEdwards PTonne CArmstrong BGAshiru OBanister Det al.2009Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport.Lancet3749705193043doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61714-1Pubmed Abstract

[65]  Ewing RBartholomew KWinkelman SWalters JAnderson G2009Urban development and climate change.J Urban1320116

[66]  Wang GMacera CAScudder-Soucie BSchmid TPratt MBuchner DA2005Cost-Benefit Analysis of Physical Activity Using Bike/Pedestrian Trails.Health Promot Pract621749
doi:10.1177/1524839903260687Pubmed Abstract

[67]  Cavill NKahlmeier SRutter HRacioppi FOja P2008Economic analyses of transport infrastructure and policies including health effects related to cycling and walking: A systematic review.Transp Policy155291304doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2008.11.001

[68]  Sælensminde K2004Cost-benefit analyses of walking and cycling track networks taking into account insecurity, health effects and external costs of motorized traffic. Transportation Research Part A.Policy Pract388593606doi:10.1016/j.tra.2004.04.003

Full Text PDF (95.6 KB) Export Citation