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Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?

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de Nazelle, Audrey J 
Götschi, Thomas 
Kahlmeier, Sonja 
Rojas-Rueda, David 


Active travel (cycling, walking) is beneficial for the health due to increased physical activity (PA). However, active travel may increase the intake of air pollution, leading to negative health consequences. We examined the risk-benefit balance between active travel related PA and exposure to air pollution across a range of air pollution and PA scenarios. The health effects of active travel and air pollution were estimated through changes in all-cause mortality for different levels of active travel and air pollution. Air pollution exposure was estimated through changes in background concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ranging from 5 to 200μg/m3. For active travel exposure, we estimated cycling and walking from 0 up to 16h per day, respectively. These refer to long-term average levels of active travel and PM2.5 exposure. For the global average urban background PM2.5 concentration (22μg/m3) benefits of PA by far outweigh risks from air pollution even under the most extreme levels of active travel. In areas with PM2.5 concentrations of 100μg/m3, harms would exceed benefits after 1h 30min of cycling per day or more than 10h of walking per day. If the counterfactual was driving, rather than staying at home, the benefits of PA would exceed harms from air pollution up to 3h 30min of cycling per day. The results were sensitive to dose-response function (DRF) assumptions for PM2.5 and PA. PA benefits of active travel outweighed the harm caused by air pollution in all but the most extreme air pollution concentrations.



Air pollution, Bicycling, Health Impact Assessment, Mortality, Physical activity, Risk–Benefit Assessment, Walking, Air Pollution, Bicycling, Environmental Exposure, Exercise, Humans, Particulate Matter, Risk Assessment, Walking

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Elsevier BV
Medical Research Council (MR/K021796/1)
Wellcome Trust (087636/Z/08/Z)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/G007462/1)
Medical Research Council (MR/K023187/1)
Medical Research Council (MR/K025147/1)
MT and JW: The work was undertaken by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Funding from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged. AJN, DRR, MJN, SK and TG: The work was supported by the project Physical Activity through Sustainable Transportation Approaches (PASTA) funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Program under EC‐GA No. 602624-2 (FP7-HEALTH-2013-INNOVATION-1). The sponsors had no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication. JW is supported by MRC Population Health Scientist fellowship. THS is supported by the Brazilian Science without Borders Scheme (Process number: 200358/2014-6) and the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (Process number: 2012/08565-4).