Dr Nick Cavill, Cavill Associates Ltd and University of Bristol, one of the authors of the 'Active Travel & Physical Activity Evidence Review' report commissioned by Sport England, discusses the report findings and concludes there is strong, substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity.
If you thought Sport England were only interested in promoting competitive sport and vigorous exercise, read on. Sustrans has recently started a fruitful partnership with the national sporting body, with a focus on active travel.
Sport England recently appointed Sustrans to lead an academic review into the link between active travel and physical activity. This reviewed the current and potential contribution of active travel to physical activity levels, and the effectiveness of active travel interventions at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity.
This review fits neatly into Sport England’s vision that “everyone in England feels able to take part in sport or activity, regardless of age, background or ability.” Note the word activity here. No longer the preserve of sweaty lycra-clad exercise addicts, significant health benefits can be achieved from regular walking and cycling as part of daily life.
Sport and health
Sport England has been embracing the health agenda for some time. As far back as 1990 they worked with the then Health Education Authority on the world’s first national fitness survey, that led to a significant shift in national physical activity policy. But it is only in recent years that the sporting body has embraced active travel in such a way. Walking to work may never be an Olympic sport, but it has been recognised as a physical activity that has significant benefits to health and society.
Sustrans teamed up with a number of partners to conduct the review. Most of the reviewing was done by Dr Nick Cavill and Prof. Adrian Davis, with support from an advisory group comprising Dr Charlie Foster, Prof. Harry Rutter and Dr Karen Milton. The team also engaged with academics and practitioners to consider and sense-check the findings.
The main part of the review was into the effectiveness of active travel interventions. This identified the strongest available material by setting a high-quality threshold and including only those studies with a control or comparison group. The review found 84 studies meeting the criteria within peer reviewed and ‘grey’ literature (research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form) drawn from wide-ranging and non-traditional sources in the UK and internationally.
What did it find?
The review found 61 out of 84 interventions were effective at increasing walking, cycling or physical activity. This includes 36 out of 50 walking interventions, and 41 out of 60 cycling interventions (some covered both). The remainder showed mixed or uncertain results, with a very small number showing decreases.
There is strong, substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity. Evidence is strongest for town or citywide approaches, often made up of several interventions working together across a whole place.
The review also found good evidence for interventions in a range of settings or approaches including schools, workplaces, interpersonal interventions and marketing.
Is this new?
Reviews of published material never find new results, but this review is important as it brings together the strongest evidence for walking and cycling interventions in one place, to be used by active travel advocates and policymakers.
It is also interesting to note that the results chime well with the findings of a recent report by Friends of the Earth and Transport for Quality of Life. This looked at the potential role of cycling and walking in European towns and cities and placed a great deal of emphasis on creating and sustaining good quality infrastructure for walking and cycling (including e-bikes).