Background: Few studies have assessed the predictors of changes in commuting. This study investigated the associations between physical environmental characteristics and changes in active commuting.
Methods: Adults from the population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC)-Norfolk cohort self-reported commuting patterns in 2000 and 2007. Active commuters were defined as those who reported 'always' or 'usually' walking or cycling to work. Environmental attributes around the home and route were assessed using Geographical Information Systems. Associations between potential environmental predictors and uptake and maintenance of active commuting were modelled using logistic regression, adjusting for age, sex and BMI.
Results: Of the 2757 participants (62% female, median baseline age: 52, IQR: 50-56 years), most were passive commuters at baseline (76%, n = 2099) and did not change their usual commute mode over 7 years (82%, n = 2277). In multivariable regression models, participants living further from work were less likely to take up active commuting and those living in neighbourhoods with more streetlights were more likely to take up active commuting (both p < 0.05). Findings for maintenance were similar: participants living further from work (over 10 km, OR: 0.06; 95% CI: 0.25 to 0.13) and had a main or secondary road on route were more likely to maintain their active commuting (OR: 0.52; 95% CI: 0.28 to 0.98). Those living in neighbourhoods with greater density of employment locations were more likely to maintain their active commuting.
Conclusions: Co-locating residential and employment centres as well as redesigning urban areas to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists may encourage active commuting. Future evaluative studies should seek to assess the effects of redesigning the built environment on active commuting and physical activity.
Keywords: Active commuting; EPIC-Norfolk; Environment; GIS; Longitudinal; Travel.