(CN) – Severe air pollution caused by motorized traffic can drastically reduce the potential health benefits of living in a walkable community, researchers reported in a scientific study Tuesday.
The study, published in Environment International, challenges previous research suggesting that people who live in walkable neighborhoods necessarily experience health benefits when they choose to use their feet rather than motorized vehicles to get around.
Gillian Booth, co-lead author of the study, and a team of researchers examined data from roughly 2.5 million adults in Ontario, Canada, in an attempt to better understand the consequences of poor air quality.
The study found that individuals who live in walkable communities are more likely to be physically active, but the adverse consequences of air pollution in those areas cancel out any potential health benefits.
“We found that walkability and traffic-related air pollution have opposite effects,” Booth said in an email. “But even more to the point, the presence of high levels of traffic-related air pollution completely negated the health benefits of highly walkable neighborhoods.”
Researchers found that the problems associated with pollution in these neighborhoods include cardiovascular issues and an increased risk of hypertension and diabetes.
“Walkability and traffic-related air pollution interact to jointly predict risk for hypertension and diabetes,” according to the study.
“Although walkable neighborhoods appear to have beneficial effects, they may accentuate the harmful effects of air pollution on cardiovascular risk factors,” it continues.
Researchers suggest that as air pollution in these areas continue to rise, observed benefits from living in walkable communities will continue to drop even further.
Booth believes one solution to this problem would be to give people more public transportation options around these walkable communities.
“People who use public transit are more likely to meet recommended levels of physical activity, and it has the added benefit of reducing traffic congestion and therefore NO2 emissions from idling cars,” Booth said. “The plus is that this strategy is also in line with policies to reduce carbon emissions so it’s a win-win in the long term.”