Is being concerned about the environment good for your health? -conference paper abstract-
AuthorsAnthony A. Laverty, Elizabeth Webb, Jennifer Mindell and Christopher Millett
There is a growing interest internationally in synergies between reduction of greenhouse gases and increase in active travel (walking, bicycling, and use of public transport). Active travel is associated with reductions in cardiovascular diseases, depression, dementia, and diabetes. We aimed to assess whether people who undertake more active transport because of concerns about the environment benefit from their increased activity personally through reduced likelihood of being overweight or obese, or having diabetes or hypertension.
Data for this study come from Understanding Society, a nationally representative survey of residents of the four countries of the UK, gathered by the Institute for Social and Economic Research. Data come from 18 000 individuals who participated in the first wave of the survey between Jan 1, 2009, and April 20, 2011. Participants were asked questions about their behaviour prefaced by “Now a few questions about the environment”. These included “how often do you use public transport (eg, bus, train) rather than travel by car” and “how often do you walk or cycle for short journeys less than 2 or 3 miles?”. Answers were in five categories from “always” to “never.” Logistic regression was used to examine the association between answers to these questions and being overweight or obese; having self-reported diabetes; and having self-reported hypertension. Analyses were done with two groups: “always”, “very often”, and “quite often” (group 1); and “not very often” and “never” (group 2). All results were adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, education, social class, and country of residence.
People who walked or cycled short journeys because of environmental concerns were less likely to be overweight (adjusted odds ratio 0·71, 95% CI 0·67—0·76) or obese (0·66, 0·62—0·71) and less likely to have diabetes (0·73, 0·63—0·86) or hypertension (0·81, 0·74—0·88) than were their counterparts. Those who used public transport because of environmental concerns were less likely to be overweight (0·77, 0·72—0·82) or obese (0·86, 0·79—0·93). However, the association with public transport was not significant for diabetes (0·91, 0·77—1·09) or hypertension (1·05, 0·96—1·15).
Although these results are from a cross-sectional survey and cannot fully account for the complex causal pathways involved, they suggest that concern for the environment might drive people towards more active behaviour, which in turn could lead to a lessening of cardiovascular disease risk factors. This result held after adjustment for many factors such as age and social class that are associated with being more concerned about the environment. Public health practitioners might wish to harness opportunities to effectively link strategies to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and promote increasing physical activity through active travel.