It’s interesting how some public health concerns become hot-button issues, generating strong responses whenever they’re mentioned, while others cause barely a public ripple.

Over at The Conversation, Professor Simon Chapman’s recent article, Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ diseasehas generated more than 300 comments (most from a handful of people).

Whether bicycle helmet wearing should be compulsory is another issue that inevitably triggers intense debate, while we tend to hear less about some of the other factors influencing cycling uptake.

Related issues are explored further in the latest “must read” article recommended below by the JournalWatch service of The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA.

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How important is the neighbourhood environment for cycling uptake?

Dr Melissa Stoneham writes:

The Tour de France has put the media spotlight once again on cycling.  Many agree that cycling is a cost-effective, healthy and environmentally friendly alternative mode of transport to use of cars, and should be encouraged for all ages and in all locations.

However, little is known about how changes in the neighbourhood environment are related to changes in cycling behaviour.

So a team of researchers, from the Netherlands, Western Australia and Austria, went about investigating this and aimed to identify environmental determinants of the uptake of cycling after relocation.

Their study, based in Perth WA, asked 1427 people who were moving into 74 new housing developments about their transport and recreational cycling behaviour, before and after residential relocation.

What they found was that prior to relocation 90% did not cycle for transport and 80% did not cycle for recreation.

After the residential relocation, cycling behaviours significantly improved – with 5% of non-cyclists taking up cycling for transport and 7% taking up cycling for recreation.

The study also highlighted that motivations behind cycling for transport and recreation differed for people.

Transport-related cycling was more likely if there was easy access to nearby bicycle facilities and in areas of high residential density.

Residents were also more likely to cycle for transport if their intended destination was a short distance from home and if their destination was recreation related.

The neighbourhood’s street connectivity and aesthetics such as cycling paths, parks and lack of hills strongly influenced recreational cycling.

This all comes amid debate about whether bike helmets could also be a barrier to cycling.

Recently, the City of Fremantle stated they want cyclists to be able to ride without helmets as part of a two-year trial as a way to encourage more people to take up cycling.

Under the trial, helmets would be optional for adults cycling on separated cycleways, dual-use paths and roads where the maximum speed is 50km/h or less. However, helmets would remain compulsory for those aged under 18 years of age.

The City said they would monitor the number of cyclists to determine whether cycling numbers increased.

And the debate continues. Last week a bmj.com poll asked “Should it be compulsory for adult cyclists to wear helmets?” 68% of respondents voted no, out of a total 1,439 votes cast. The question always triggers an interesting debate.

Mandatory bike helmet laws may or may not be a good idea, but it certainly is creating a lot of community and professional debate.

So whether it is new laws for bike helmets or creating environments that support cycling as this study suggests, one thing is clear; a consensus decision is needed to change the mobility and culture of cycling in Australia.

• Taking Up Cycling After Residential Relocation: Built Environment Factors. Mariëlle A. Beenackers, Sarah Foster, Carlijn B.M. Kamphuis, Sylvia Titze, Mark Divitini, Matthew Knuiman, Frank J. van Lenthe and Billie Giles-Corti, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Issue 6 , Pages 610-615, June 2012

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About JournalWatch

The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.

The Journals reviewed include:

Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)

Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)

Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)

Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)

Lancet

Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP)

Tobacco Control (TC)

American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)

Health Promotion International (HPI)

American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM)

These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe to Journal Watch go to http://www.phaiwa.org.au/index.php/other-projects-mainmenu-146/journalwatch

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PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au

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Previous JournalWatch articles:

A focus on the corporate practices that contribute to poor health

 How much healthy food is sold at fast food restaurants?

• Why the world needs a dengue day

 Germany’s role in undermining tobacco control

 

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