Walking and cycling life course approach

Project details

Full project title: Applying the life course approach to walking and cycling

Sponsor: Medical Research Council (MRC) and Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC)

Research student: Heather Jones

Supervisory team: Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Professor Selena Gray (Centre for Health and Clinical Research)

Start date: October 2009

Finish date: December 2012

Research briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet document (PDF)

Project summary

Benefits to health of regular exercise are increasingly recognised and joint initiatives are being taken between the transport and health sectors to encourage higher levels of walking and cycling.

A lack of evidence of sufficient quality has been found on the effectiveness of interventions to increase walking and cycling. Two weaknesses identified of studies are use of narrow frameworks of investigation and reliance on cross-sectional data. The proposed research will use a life course approach to explore walking and cycling behaviour.

The principal aim of the research is to examine the role of past events and experiences and future expectations in influencing the walking and cycling activity of individuals. Specific research questions are:

  • What life events (on their own or in combination) (e.g. house move) are associated with significant 'turning points' in walking and cycling activity?
  • How do past events and experiences (e.g. walking to school) and future expectations (e.g. physical exercise goal) influence how walking and cycling behaviour changes in response to (i) initiatives aimed at increasing walking and cycling and (ii) changes in life circumstances?
  • How can policy actions to increase walking and cycling activity be better designed and targeted?

The life course approach entails individual lives being conceived as a set of interwoven pathways or trajectories that together tell a life story. Methods of collecting life history data include biographical interviews and surveys. Interviews enable life histories to be constructed and in-depth insights to be gained on these, whilst surveys enable quantitative relationships between past events/experiences (or future expectations) and current behaviour to be investigated.