Change in walking for transport: a longitudinal study of the influence of neighbourhood disadvantage and individual-level socioeconomic position in mid-aged adults

Unlike leisure time physical activity, knowledge of the socioeconomic determinants of active transport is limited, research on this topic has produced mixed and inconsistent findings, and it remains unknown if peoples? engagement in active transport declines as they age. This longitudinal study examined relationships between neighbourhood disadvantage, individual-level socioeconomic position and walking for transport (WfT) during mid- and early old-age (40 ? 70?years). Three questions were addressed: (i) which socioeconomic groups walk for transport, (ii) does the amount of walking change over time as people age, and (iii) is the change socioeconomically patterned?
The data come from the HABITAT study of physical activity, a bi-annual multilevel longitudinal survey of 11,036 residents of 200 neighbourhoods in Brisbane, Australia. At each wave (2007, 2009 and 2011) respondents estimated the duration (minutes) of WfT in the previous 7?days. Neighbourhood disadvantage was measured using a census-derived index comprising 17 different socioeconomic components, and individual-level socioeconomic position was measured using education, occupation, and household income. The data were analysed using multilevel mixed-effects logistic and linear regression.
The odds of being defined as a `never walker? were significantly lower for residents of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but significantly higher for the less educated, blue collar employees, and members of lower income households. WfT declined significantly over time as people aged and the declines were more precipitous for older persons. Average minutes of WfT declined for all neighbourhoods and most socioeconomic groups; however, the declines were significantly steeper for the retired and members of low income households.
Designing age-friendly neighbourhoods might slow or delay age-related declines in WfT and should be a priority. Steeper declines in WfT among residents of low income households may reflect their poorer health status and the impact of adverse socioeconomic exposures over the life course. Each of these declines represents a significant challenge to public health advocates, urban designers, and planners in their attempts to keep people active and healthy in their later years of life.