Neighbourhoods designed to encourage people to walk to and from the shops and public transport will help reduce hospital costs and admissions linked to residents, new Canberra research shows.
The research project, from the University of Canberra's Health Research Institute, has revealed a relationship between a suburb's "walkability score" and a reduction in both hospital costs and admissions.
Published in international journal Preventive Medicine this week, the study is the first to connect the dots between "walkability" measures and hospital costs and admissions, and adds to the growing debate surrounding the role of "social determinants" in health outcomes.
Coauthors Dr Yan Yu and Vincent Learnihan studied ACT Health data from 30,690 hospital admissions across 88 of the ACT's suburbs, then matched them against each suburb's "walkability score".
That score is a measure of how easy it is to get around a particular suburb, including the number of interconnected streets, footpaths and the presence of shops, public transport stops, restaurants and services within walking distance of each other.
Dr Yu said the study showed that those suburbs rated as "walkable" - with a walkability score of 20 units or more - were linked to a 12.1 per cent lower hospital cost for those residents and a 12.5 per cent lower rate of hospital admissions.
She said the admissions data they focussed on included cancers, cardiovascular diseases, endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases and diabetes.
But the research also showed that in Canberra, some 80 per cent of all the city's suburbs were still "car-dependent", which Mr Learnihan said showed more needed to be done to help encourage Canberrans to walk, ride and use public transport.
While Mr Learnihan commended the ACT government's existing "active travel" programs, he said the study showed that wider and better funded initiatives to improve the "walkability" of new and existing suburbs could help save on health costs and improve Canberrans' quality of life.
Dr Yu said such changes could be as simple as improving footpaths and bike paths, increasing public transport access and improving local shops.