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Cost-effectiveness of active transport for primary school children - Walking School Bus program

Marjory Moodie1*, Michelle Haby2, Leah Galvin3, Boyd Swinburn4 and Robert Carter1

Author Affiliations

1 Deakin Health Economics, Public Health Research Evaluation and Policy Cluster, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia

2 Public Health Branch, Department of Human Services, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia

3 School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia

4 WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2009, 6:63  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-6-63

Published: 14 September 2009

Abstract

Background

To assess from a societal perspective the incremental cost-effectiveness of the Walking School Bus (WSB) program for Australian primary school children as an obesity prevention measure. The intervention was modelled as part of the ACE-Obesity study, which evaluated, using consistent methods, thirteen interventions targeting unhealthy weight gain in Australian children and adolescents.

Methods

A logic pathway was used to model the effects on body mass index [BMI] and disability-adjusted life years [DALYs] of the Victorian WSB program if applied throughout Australia. Cost offsets and DALY benefits were modelled until the eligible cohort reached 100 years of age or death. The reference year was 2001. Second stage filter criteria ('equity', 'strength of evidence', 'acceptability', feasibility', sustainability' and 'side-effects') were assessed to incorporate additional factors that impact on resource allocation decisions.

Results

The modelled intervention reached 7,840 children aged 5 to 7 years and cost $AUD22.8M ($16.6M; $30.9M). This resulted in an incremental saving of 30 DALYs (7:104) and a net cost per DALY saved of $AUD0.76M ($0.23M; $3.32M). The evidence base was judged as 'weak' as there are no data available documenting the increase in the number of children walking due to the intervention. The high costs of the current approach may limit sustainability.

Conclusion

Under current modelling assumptions, the WSB program is not an effective or cost-effective measure to reduce childhood obesity. The attribution of some costs to non-obesity objectives (reduced traffic congestion and air pollution etc.) is justified to emphasise the other possible benefits. The program's cost-effectiveness would be improved by more comprehensive implementation within current infrastructure arrangements. The importance of active transport to school suggests that improvements in WSB or its variants need to be developed and fully evaluated.