Does commuting affect health?

Commuting is part of our daily lives; with this research we aim to explore how it impacts upon our health.

Research focus:

The increase of travel distances and the prevalence of car use in commuting have important health implications in addition to financial and environmental consequences. For example, previous research shows that long distance commuting is associated with poor psychological well-being. Exposure to air pollution is also part of the commuting process which may lead to adverse health outcomes. Active commuting, on the contrary, is beneficial because it appears to be exposed to the lowest level of pollution overall and involves physical activity on a daily basis.

However, the relationship between transport and health is still poorly understood and some previous research has found no effects of commuting on health. In addition, previous studies tend to use survey data which have a small sample size and self-reported health measures that are subject to reporting bias. The potential causal link between active commuting by bike and mental health has not been examined.

We will use linked administrative data to explore the association between commuting and health. The population census will provide information on commuting distance and commuting mode besides other demographic and socioeconomic confounders whilst the health data from population census and NHS Scotland will provide information on mental and physical conditions. Especially we will use hospital discharges, Prescribing Information System, maternity records, psychiatric admission, and link them to the population census. Our research will be among the first in exploring the association (potential causal links) between commuting and health using linked administrative data that include objective health measures as outcomes.

This work is highly relevant to government policy. The Scottish Government has the overall national strategy to make the nation healthier and moves towards sustainable transport, both being related to the objectives of this research. Promoting more sustainable patterns of transport and travel is also a key priority of the Scottish Government’s transport policy.

This project has potential to:

  • To inform policy on transport infrastructure and management in terms of improvement of commuters’ experiences.
  • To improve commuters’ awareness of potential impact of long distance commuting
  • To enhance commuters’ awareness of use of underground in their travel to work
  • To improve public’s understanding of active travel, especially cycling to work and their potential benefits.
  • To provide further evidence to policies that promote cycling as a daily travel mode.

Data this research aims to link and analyse

  • SMR01: Hospital inpatient records (from 1991)
  • SMR04: Mental health inpatient records (from 1997 - earliest usable data)
  • SMR02: Maternal records (from 2001 )
  • PIS: Prescribing information system records (from 2009 - earliest usable data)
  • Census records (2001 and 2011)
  • Birth registrations (from 2001)

Research team

Project lead: Zhiqiang Feng, University of Edinburgh, Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research

Publications and outputs

This project is at an early stage. When publications or outputs are available, they will be shared here. For more information about this project, please contact us.