Associations between active travel and weight, blood pressure and diabetes in six middle income countries: a cross-sectional study in older adults

Background:
There is little published data on the potential health benefits of active travel in low and middle-income countries. This is despite increasing levels of adiposity being linked to increases in physical inactivity and non-communicable diseases. This study will examine: (1) socio-demographic correlates of using active travel (walking or cycling for transport) among older adults in six populous middle-income countries (2) whether use of active travel is associated with adiposity, systolic blood pressure and self-reported diabetes in these countries.
Methods:
Data are from the WHO Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) of China, India, Mexico, Ghana, Russia and South Africa with a total sample size of 40,477. Correlates of active travel (≥150 min/week) were examined using logistic regression. Logistic and linear regression analyses were used to examine health related outcomes according to three groups of active travel use per week.
Results:
46.4 % of the sample undertook ≥150 min of active travel per week (range South Africa: 21.9 % Ghana: 57.8 %). In pooled analyses those in wealthier households were less likely to meet this level of active travel (Adjusted Risk Ratio (ARR) 0.77, 95 % Confidence Intervals 0.67; 0.88 wealthiest fifth vs. poorest). Older people and women were also less likely to use active travel for ≥150 min per week (ARR 0.71, 0.62; 0.80 those aged 70+ years vs. 18–29 years old, ARR 0.82, 0.74; 0.91 women vs. men).In pooled fully adjusted analyses, high use of active travel was associated with lower risk of overweight (ARR 0.71, 0.59; 0.86), high waist-to-hip ratio (ARR 0.71, 0.61; 0.84) and lower BMI (−0.54 kg/m2, −0.98;− 0.11). Moderate (31–209 min/week) and high use (≥210 min/week) of active travel was associated with lower waist circumference (−1.52 cm (−2.40; −0.65) and −2.16 cm (3.07; −1.26)), and lower systolic blood pressure (−1.63 mm/Hg (−3.19; −0.06) and −2.33 mm/Hg (−3.98; −0.69)).
Conclusions:
In middle-income countries use of active travel for ≥150 min per week is more common in lower socio-economic groups and appears to confer similar health benefits to those identified in high-income settings. Efforts to increase active travel levels should be integral to strategies to maintain healthy weight and reduce disease burden in these settings.

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