Intended for healthcare professionals


Three quarters of delegates drove to conference on impact of environment on health

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 07 March 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:775
  1. Barbara Hanratty, Senior registrar in public health medicine,
  2. Will Patterson, Consultant in public health medicine
  1. North Yorkshire Health Authority, York YO1 1PE

    EDITOR—A conference was organised recently in Northern and Yorkshire region to promote joint working between health and local authorities on environmental issues. As the delegates would include potential leaders of any resulting initiatives we were interested to see how they travelled to the conference. Travel information was sent out before the event, and the venue was chosen for its accessibility: it was on a bus route and a short walk from the railway station.

    A question on the conference evaluation form asked about the method of transport used, including whether cars carried passengers, the fuel used, and engine size. We also asked the name of the delegate's employer, the delegate's job title, and whether he or she belonged to an environmental pressure group (not defined).

    Most of the delegates to the conference, which was on the impact of the environment on health, travelled by car, even though the venue could be reached easily by public transport. Altogether 165 people attended, of whom 109 (66%) returned the evaluation form. Three quarters (83) came by car, more than half travelling alone. Twenty used the train, five cycled, and one came by bus. Most worked in health care (48 were employed by district health authorities, trusts, the NHS Executive, or the Department of Health), while 39 were from local authorities. Twenty five were members of an environmental pressure group.

    Seniority increased the likelihood that travel would be by car (χ2 test for trend P<0.0001), but no relation was found between increasing seniority and car engine size. Delegates named 14 groups as environmental pressure groups to which they belonged (table), but none mentioned their employing organisation. All of the cyclists listed at least one membership, and, overall, members of any environmental group were more likely to travel by public transport (χ2 =21.56, P<0.0001, df=1).

    Organisations named as environmental pressure groups of which delegates at conference were members

    View this table:

    Public sector workers seem to be supporting the dominance of the car culture; perhaps their employers should be asking how other forms of transport can be promoted. Many people drove cars leased to them through their work, and such schemes usually offer few incentives to choose a small engine size or a vehicle that is economical on fuel. A minimum annual mileage may also encourage greater use of vehicles; providing parking spaces at places of work can add to traffic volume and pollution in towns and cities.

    Our experience suggests that if health and local authorities are to lead the way to a healthier nation then transport policies for their own staff may be a good place to start.