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Free bus pass promotes health of seniors

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 12:15 p.m. MDT

Passengers ride in a UTA bus in the free fare zone on State Street in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. Free bus passes encourage seniors to be more engaged in physical activity, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

Ravell Call, Deseret News archives

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Free bus passes encourage seniors to be more engaged in physical activity, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. People with a bus pass are more likely to be engaged in "active travel," such as walking, cycling or using public transport.

"Given the need to encourage older people to be physically active, it's good news that the provision of free bus passes seems to be having a positive impact," said study author Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.

Researchers analysed data from the UK National Travel Survey, which examined the travel habits of 16,900 people over four years. The study was based upon travel diaries of 11,218 people with free bus passes and 5,693 without a pass.

The biggest factor associated with not walking or using "active travel" — defined as cycling, walking and using public transport — was having access to a car, the findings showed.

These associations, which cut across socioeconomic groups, suggested that poorer and wealthier people are equally benefitting from the scheme, Medical Xpress noted.

Free bus travel was introduced to over-60s in 2006 in England, but in an attempt to save money, there is pressure for the scheme to be scrapped, BBC reported. "Pressures on public spending may mean that the free bus travel scheme, which costs £1.1bn a year, could be ended, or bus passes could become means-tested."

Officials should take into consideration the public health benefits of the scheme, before deciding its future, Coronini-Cronberg, told BBC.

"Although the costs of the scheme are considerable, it may offer value for money as it seems to promote physical activity among older people, thereby helping to reduce inactivity-related mortality and morbidity."

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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