Demand response to improved walking infrastructure: A study into the economics of walking and health behaviour change

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Abstract

Walking is the most common form of moderate‐intensity physical activity among adults, is widely accessible and especially appealing to obese people. Most often policy makers are interested in valuing the effect on walking of changes in some characteristics of a neighbourhood, the demand response for walking, of infrastructure changes. A positive demand response to improvements in the walking environment could help meet the public health target of 150 minutes of at least moderate‐intensity physical activity per week. We model walking in an individual’s local neighbourhood as a ‘weak complement’ to the characteristics of the neighbourhood itself. Walking is affected by neighbourhood
characteristics, substitutes, and individual’s characteristics, including their opportunity cost of time.  Using compensating variation, we assess the economic benefits of walking and how walking behaviour is affected by improvements to the neighbourhood.  Using a sample of 1,209 respondents surveyed over a 12 month period (Feb 2010‐Jan 2011) in East Belfast, United Kingdom, we find that a policy that increased walkability and people’s perception of access to shops and facilities  would lead to an increase in walking of about 36 minutes/person/week, valued at £13.65/person/week. When focusing on inactive residents, a policy that improved the walkability of the area would lead to guidelines for physical activity being reached by only 12.8% of the population who are currently inactive. Additional interventions would therefore be needed to encourage inactive residents to
achieve the recommended levels of physical activity, as it appears that interventions that improve the walkability of an area are particularly effective in increasing walking among already active citizens, and, among the inactive ones, the best response is found among healthier, younger and wealthier citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Volume143
Early online date21 Aug 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015

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