- Restrictions on travel outside one’s area are associated with poorer self-reported health, according to a new survey-based study of a population from the United Kingdom.
- In contrast, people who travel away from their home location report experiencing better health.
- One reason may be that when a person is unable to travel, they also have fewer social interactions, which can contribute to loneliness.
- The study focuses on the North of England, an area with poorer health outcomes than the rest of England, and limited transport services outside large urban areas.
A new survey-based study conducted by researchers at the UK’s University College London Center for Transport Studies shows how people think travel – and barriers to travel – affect their health.
The study finds that people who face restrictions on their ability to travel outside their local area, or to as many places as they want, report poorer health, while those who are able to travel away from home feel they experience better health. good.
His findings appear in Journal of Transport & Health.
The researchers received funding from UK transport body Transport for the North for their study.
The study defined travel outside one’s area as traveling 15 miles or 24 kilometers from home.
The study’s authors analyzed the responses of 2,747 residents from the North of England about their health and travel restrictions they face.
This area of England has the worst health outcomes in the country, according to researchers, and many of its areas lack adequate transport facilities.
Survey respondents were asked to report their level of agreement or disagreement with five questions, each of which focused on a specific travel restriction:
- “I travel beyond my area less often than I would ideally like” – a travel frequency limitation
- “I travel to fewer places (eg cities or towns outside my local area) than I would ideally like” – a limitation on the number of places traveled
- “I travel to places that are closer than where I would ideally like to go” – a travel distance limitation
- “I travel by public transport to places where I would ideally like to go by car” – a car travel restriction
- “I drive to places I would ideally like to go by public transport” – a limitation on access to public transport.
Based on the survey responses, the authors concluded that individuals who were able to travel at least 15 miles from home and who were able to travel frequently and see more places were more likely to report better health.
Associations between travel and health status were most significant among respondents aged 55 and over.
According to the lead author Dr. Paulo Anciaes, previous research has proven that the ability to travel can increase access to employment and educational opportunities. He hoped to investigate, for the first time, the effect of travel on health.
He said Medical News Today that the north of England was chosen as the study area because it lags behind the rest of the country. “The government has, as one of its main priorities, the ‘levelling’ of the North and other remaining regions,” he said.
“Health outcomes are consistently worse [in the North] than in the south,” noted Dr. Anciaes, “and statistics and studies suggest that this is mainly explained by lower incomes. Our study tried to find out other possible reasons. We found that the ability to travel is one of them.”
To evaluate the effect of travel on health, Dr. Anciaes and his co-author, Dr. Paul Metcalfe, used a technique called “path analysis” that enabled them to observe the direct and indirect effects of one variable on another.
Researchers found that when people were limited in the number of places they could go, a lack of opportunities for social interaction was directly related to poorer health.
On the other hand, limited travel frequency negatively affected health less directly. This means, he said, “travel restrictions are significantly associated with social participation, and social participation is then significantly associated with self-reported health.”
Traveling outside the local area can also have a direct effect on the quality of health, in that it can allow people to access more, and possibly better, healthcare options than may be available closer to home. .
Lifestyle medical educator, Dr. Elizabeth Pegg Frates, who was not involved in the study, said MNT:
“It is clear that social connection is a basic human need. After our need for water, food and shelter, we need belonging or social connection.”
Dr. Frates said there is a lot of research that describes the effect that a lack of social connection can have on health:
“Loneliness has been
Dr. Frates co-authored an article on American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine describing the positive benefits of social connections on health.
“The study shows,” said Dr. Anciaes, “that the opportunity to travel is important for the health of the population. The implication is that restrictions on travel should be lifted.”
He cited as such constraints an insufficient level of transport services, particularly in rural areas, and a lack of services beyond peak travel times of the day, or at weekends and during school holidays.
The cost of transportation can also be an issue, as can the lack of personal safety, crowded facilities, and poor accessibility for elderly and disabled passengers.
For people who would like to be able to travel more by car, but are deterred by the costs of owning and using one, Dr. Anciaes suggested that the relevant authorities could offer “subsidies to the poorest families who use a private car when they live in areas without public transport.”
Dr. Anciaes noted that improving public transportation would also make driving easier by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
Dr. Patricia L. Mokhtarian of Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering was not involved in the study but endorsed the importance of the trip, saying MNT by no means certain that, “[f]basically, travel is essential to health and well-being – if we don’t move, we’re dead.”
However, she acknowledged that promoting travel “presents something of a policy/planning dilemma”, considering the increased environmental burden that results when more people travel more.
However, said Dr. Mokhtarian, “[t]its benefits for well-being are manifold. there are [a] considerable literature on the latter, including many of my own works.”