Background Increasing active travel (walking & cycling, including to/from public transport) is increasingly seen as integral to strategies to raise population levels of physical activity. This study examined: (1) socio-demographic correlates of active travel to work; (2) associations between active travel and cardiovascular disease risk factors in the United Kingdom.
Methods Data come from Understanding Society, a nationally representative survey of residents of the four countries of the United Kingdom in 2009–2011. Data come from the 20,000 respondents to the first wave of the survey who were aged 16 – 65 years and in work. Being overweight/obese was defined using self-reported height and weight. Hypertension and diabetes were identified based on responses to the questions “has a doctor ever told you that you have…” Multinomial logistic regression was used to assess associations between socio-demographic factors and mode of transport to work. Logistic regression was used to examine associations between mode of travel and being overweight/obese, having hypertension or diabetes. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, educational qualifications, social class, and region of residence in the UK.
Results For 69% of respondents the main mode of travel to work was inactive transport, with public transport, walking and cycling used by 16%, 12% and 3% respectively. Use of active travel was most often reported by respondents living in London. Those with professional/managerial jobs were less likely to use each form of active transport than those with routine jobs (AOR 0.49 [95% CI 0.43, 0.56] for walking). Black respondents were more likely to walk (1.41 [1.08, 1.84]) or take public transport (2.34 [1.88, 2.90]) than white respondents. Using public transport was associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight than inactive transport (0.85 [0.77, 0.95]). Walking and cycling were each associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight (0.80 [0.73, 0.90] for walking and 0.63 [0.53, 0.75] for cycling) or having diabetes than inactive transport, and walking with a lower likelihood of hypertension (0.83 [0.71, 0.95]).
Conclusion There are wide variations in the mode of travel to work across regions and socio-demographic groups in the United Kingdom. The potentially protective effect of active travel on cardiovascular risk demonstrated in this large, nationally representative study adds to growing evidence that a concerted policy focus in this area will benefit population health.