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BACKGROUND: Physical inactivity contributes substantively to disease burden, especially in highly car dependent countries such as New Zealand (NZ). We aimed to quantify the future health gain, health-sector cost-savings, and change in greenhouse gas emissions that could be achieved by switching short vehicle trips to walking and cycling in New Zealand. METHODS: We used unit-level survey data to estimate changes in physical activity, distance travelled by mode, and air pollution for: (a) switching car trips under 1km to walking and (b) switching car trips under 5km to a mix of walking and cycling. We modelled uptake levels of 25%, 50%, and 100%, and assumed changes in transport behaviour were permanent. We then used multi-state life table modelling to quantify health impacts as quality adjusted life years (QALYs) gained and changes in health system costs over the rest of the life course of the NZ population alive in 2011 (n = 4.4 million), with 3% discounting. FINDINGS: The modelled scenarios resulted in health gains between 1.61 (95% uncertainty interval (UI) 1.35 to 1.89) and 25.43 (UI 20.20 to 30.58) QALYs/1000 people, with total QALYs up to 112,020 (UI 88,969 to 134,725) over the remaining lifespan. Healthcare cost savings ranged between NZ$127million (UI $101m to 157m) and NZ$2.1billion (UI $1.6b to 2.6b). Greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by up to 194kgCO2e/year, though changes in emissions were not significant under the walking scenario. CONCLUSIONS: Substantial health gains and healthcare cost savings could be achieved by switching short car trips to walking and cycling. Implementing infrastructural improvements and interventions to encourage walking and cycling is likely to be a cost-effective way to improve population health, and may also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date