Dr Caroline Shaw

Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington

What you are working on and what your strongest driver is that pertains to the panel topic?

  • I’m working on a range of research to try and expand our understanding of how the transport system affects the health of people in New Zealand
  • I’m also working to better understand which transport policies will both improve health and reduce carbon emissions. And how much they will do both of these things? And what the trade-offs might be.
  • For me the driver for this work is that we have created a society that has breached our planetary ecological boundaries; not just in carbon emissions but in a number of other areas as well. As a medical professional it’s pretty clear that climate change is the biggest health threat to the planet in the next 50-100 years- we are already seeing its impacts. However we have an opportunity here to start sorting this out and also improve our health and our quality of life. But it is complicated and it requires us all to challenge ourselves about how we do our day to day business and be prepared to change.

What are the pain points that relate to this panel topic?

  • It’s pretty clear that the main way transport affects the health of NZers is through physical activity. This impact is bigger than both injury and air pollution. NZers are not very physically active and this has been getting worse over time. We find it hard to fit activity into our lives; I’m sure the audience will understand this. One of the best ways we can do this is by being active as we go about our regular lives including as we travel.
  • The way we design our transport system can either promote or prevent physical activity. I’ve done some work showing that people who walk or cycle to their main activity have a 76% higher chance of meeting the NZ PA guidelines compared to those who drive cars (the NZ PA guidelines are the level of PA you need to get to start getting the health benefits). But people who take PT are not really any more likely than those who drive cars.
  • Involved in some work looking at the cycling and walking infrastructure put in in Hastings and New Plymouth. We found this increased walking and cycling by 30% and people reduced their car ownership levels and drove their cars less- looking at odometer readings on people in those areas.
  • Also looked at what would happen if the other big cities in NZ had the same levels of walking, cycling and PT as Wellington; showed that Auckland would have 20% less light vehicle carbon emissions and 53 fewer people would die each year as well as a large number of people who would not be injured or have chronic illnesses. This shows the power of decisions made by local and central government about transport infrastructure and urban form.