Azara Blog: Survey on commuting and health in Cambridge

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Date published: 2009/07/08

The Cambridge-based MRC Epidemiology Unit is conducting a survey on Commuting and health in Cambridge (that link might only be temporary). They say:

Most people have to commute to and from work. For some of us, the journey might be a pleasant walk, an invigorating bike ride, a chance to collect our thoughts, or an easy way to get some exercise. For others, the journey might involve traffic jams, crowded public transport, or having to pick up children and shopping on the way home.

The way we travel can affect our health and the health of people around us. We want to find out more about how people travel and how this is related to their overall physical activity, health and wellbeing. We are particularly interested in why people choose to use different modes of transport and how this is related to where they live, where they work, and what travel options are available to them. The information collected during this study will give us a better understanding of the health impacts of commuting. We hope this will help make sure that future transport policy takes account of people's health needs.

We are surveying people who travel to work in Cambridge. We intend to repeat the survey in 2010 and again in 2011 to find out how things have changed and how these changes have affected the health and wellbeing of commuters like you.

We will be asking everyone in the study to complete a questionnaire. We will also be asking some people to wear a small activity monitor around their waist for a week. These activity monitors are light, matchbox-sized devices that measure human movement much like a step counter. They provide much more detailed and accurate information about how physically active people are at different times throughout the week.

What is the point of this survey? The obvious conclusion will be that people who cycle or the half dozen people who walk to work are healthier than those who drive or take a bus. What a surprise. The eventual report will probably miss the fact that there is a difference between correlation and causation. So for example, for people who work in Cambridge, richer people generally live closer to their workplace and are more likely to cycle, and of course richer people are generally healthier. But the way the conclusion of the study will be pushed is that if only the peasants could be forced to cycle 10 miles, or walk 5 miles across a muddy field, to get to work, then the world would be a better place.

It is unfortunate that at a time when the UK research councils are going to be forced to tighten their belts, that money is diverted from real research to this kind of pointless academic middle class exercise.

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