Health and Well-being

Health and Well-Being

Our research focuses on how the social and physical environment intereact to influence personal health outcomes and behaviours.

Research areas


This research group focuses upon the ways in which the social and physical environment interact to influence personal health outcomes and health behaviours. Examples include the health effects of air pollution, contextual and compositional explanations of health related behaviours such as smoking patterns, spatial and socio-economic variations in lung cancer, and a comparison of rates of hospitalisation with deprivation levels.

The group has a particular interest in the health effects of exposure to air pollution, funded through a three year project on Air Pollution and Health in New Zealand (HAPiNZ) by the Health Research Council. This project also involves atmospheric researchers from the Earth-Atmosphere group.

The use of GIS applications is another area of strength, leading to epidemiological studies and research on the contextual influences on health and health behaviours. This is attracting a range of new external funding arrangements with agencies such as the Ministry of Health.

Researchers involved

Most research suggests that car commuters are exposed to higher concentrations of air pollutants than those who walk, cycle or use public transport, although several more recent studies consider active modes of travel to be the most affected. This purpose of this project is to assess the comparative risk associated with exposure to traffic pollution when travelling via different transport modes in New Zealand cities.


The research objectives were to:

  • Provide an accurate measure of personal pollution exposure by mode
  • Provide information for transport decision-making at personal and societal levels
  • Provide a stronger base for advocating a change in consumer behaviour.


The key results of this research are as follows:

  • Car drivers are consistently exposed to the highest average levels of CO: 60% higher than cyclists, 40–100% higher than bus passengers and over 100% higher than train passengers.
  • On-road cyclists are exposed to higher levels of CO (10%), PM1 (25%) and UFPs (over 100%) than off-road cyclists. This could have significant policy implications for the location of cycle routes.
  • Car drivers and bus passengers are exposed to higher average levels of UFP than cyclists. However, for very short acute exposures (a few seconds), on-road cyclists can be exposed to higher peaks.
  • At some parts of their journeys, travellers are exposed to very high levels of pollution, often for short periods of time. This has potential health implications.
  • Locating cycle paths just a short distance from roads can reduce pollution exposure significantly: for example, locating a cyclist 5–7m away can reduce exposure by 20–40%.
  • One hour of commuting (ie 4% of the day) could contribute up to 20% of the total daily dose of CO and UFP.
  • PM10 and PM2.5 are inappropriate indicators of exposure to vehicle emissions.


Kingham S, Longley I, Salmond J, Pattinson W and Shrestha K, 2012, Variations in exposure to traffic pollution while travelling by different modes in a low density, less congested city. Environmental Pollution, accepted.

Kingham, S , Pattinson W, Shrestha K, Longley I, Salmond J (2011) Determination of personal exposure to traffic pollution while travelling by different modes. NZ Transport Agency research report 457. 104pp.

Shrestha K, 2009,The contribution of micro- scale activities to personal exposure in commuting micro- environments. a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Geography, University of Canterbury.

Pattinson W, 2009. Cyclist exposure to traffic pollution : microscale variance, the impact of route choice and comparisons to other modal choices in two New Zealand cities: a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Geography, University of Canterbury.

Staff involved

  • Prof Simon Kingham
  • Woodrow Pattinson
  • Dr Jennifer Salmond, University of Auckland
  • Dr Ian Longley, NIWA

Investigation of the ‘health gaps’ between advantaged and disadvantaged populations has been a common theme in health research, with much work indicating that socio-economic and ethnic disparities in health, have changed little or widened in recent years. However, work on the social dimensions of health and ill health have tended to use mortality as a health measure. Work by researchers in the Environment and Health research group has focused on an alternative measure of the health gap: smoking behaviour. While smoking rates have decreased in many countries this has been less true of New Zealand. While evidence suggests a general decline in smoking rates in New Zealand, during the 1990s this decline slowed or halted for certain ethnic groups with the result that ethnic differences in smoking rates have increased.

Smoking Research at Canterbury

Work has focused on New Zealand where the degree of social inequality is among the highest in the world and in Scotland, a country with particularly high smoking rates. The focus for the research team has been the effects of social inequality on ethnic differences in smoking behaviour in New Zealand. Work has incorporated a temporal dimension by examining the role of changing social inequalities on smoking behaviour and has investigated the influence of ethnic residential segregation on Maori smoking rates. A book entitled Geographies of Smoking will be published in 2014 by Wiley-Blackwell.

Staff involved

  • Prof Ross Barnett
  • Prof Graham Moon
  • Prof Jamie Pearce
  • Dr Lee Thompson

Many developed economies, including New Zealand , are struggling with growing health inequalities and anticipating a growth in the burden of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes. Whilst the unequal distributions of structural and behavioural risk factors producing these problems are well understood, there has been less success in tackling them. Attention has recently turned away from risk factors to salutogenesis (literally, 'health creation'), in other words, asking 'what keeps people healthy', rather than 'what makes them sick?' Within this movement, attention has been focused on aspects of physical environment which promote good health and on the potentially health creating properties of contact with natural or green environments, commonly referred to as 'green space'.

The aims of this research are to:

  • To assess associations between access to green environment and cause specific mortality rates for urban areas in New Zealand
  • To infer the mechanisms by which different categories of green environment may be associated with health

Staff involved

Quantifying the relations between air pollution exposure and pollutant dose at population scale

The advent of reduced cost and mobile technology to measure air pollution has resulted in significant improvements in our understanding of the temporal and spatial variability of air quality in urban environments. However, to date, this has not resulted in an improved understanding of the relation between human exposure to air pollution and human morbidity or mortality.

This is a consequence in part of the poor quantification of air pollutant dose at population scales. Pollutant dose is a measure of the amount of air pollution absorbed by the body. Previous studies of pollutant dose have been limited to very small numbers of participants in laboratory settings due to the costs (financial and time) and invasive nature of the procedures


This project will run field trials in which volunteers will exercise at different levels of ambient pollution. Their pollutant dose will be tested prior to exercise and at intervals during and after exercise. The relation between ambient exposure and dose will then be evaluated.

Staff involved

Increasingly it is being accepted that active transport can be a real part of a sustainable and resilient transport policy. benefits include reduced carbon emission, increased activity, improvements in social capital and reduced congestion. This project is really a series of projects that in different ways are examining some of the key motivations for walking and cycling, while also identifying the barriers and suggesting policy recommendations that could increase the use of active transport nodes.


  • What are some of the main barriers to people walking and cycling
  • What can be done to encourage more people to walk and cycle
  • How important is infrastructure in walking and cycling
  • How can we specifically encourage youth to walk and cycle
  • What is the role for alternative design of bikes in contemporary cities.
  • What are the cultural perceptions of different transport modes


Safety is the most significant issue for potential cyclists, particularly in relation to vehicle driver behaviour and traffic volume. Other significant issues included having facilities at the destination for showering and changing, enjoyment, and the perception that car drivers are not courteous.


Kingham S, Koorey G and Taylor K, 2011, Assessment of the type of cycle infrastructure required to attract new cyclists. NZTA Report 449.

Staff involved

  • Prof Simon Kingham
  • Dr David Conradson
  • Dr Glen Koorey, Civil Engineering
  • Jane Pearce, UC Geography
  • Jillian Frater, UC Geography
  • George Williams, UC Geography
  • Helen Fitt, UC Geog
  • Niamh Donnellan, UC Geog

Spatial-temporal modelling of road traffic accidents in Christchurch, New Zealand: a policy evaluation

Project 2005-2007
Funding: $100,000

This project considers the development of innovative spatial analysis methods and applies them to the topical issue of road traffic accidents in Christchurch. We aim to examine spatial and temporal trends in road traffic accidents, and to assess the success, or otherwise, of road traffic accident reduction policy initiatives. These measures include both engineering solutions (eg. traffic calming) and social interventions (eg. encouraging ride-share, greater bus use). The methods developed and results obtained will have wider global applicability.

Spatial modelling techniques developed by the principle investigator will be extended and applied to data supplied in-kind by the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) to create surfaces, or GIS maps depicting density of road accidents, at a variety of spatial scales, from specific road intersections to larger-scale neighbourhoods. These statistical surfaces can be created for accidents by location, time, or transport type and compared with predicted accident rates derived from simulated road traffic flows, using data supplied by Christchurch City Council (CCC) together with population data from the NZ population census. Crucially, we will be able to test the impact of implemented solutions by testing before and after scenarios.

Staff involved

The GeoHealth Laboratory undertakes applied research in the areas of health geography, spatial epidemiology and Geographical Information Systems. In particular, work in the GeoHealth Laboratory focuses upon how the local and national contexts shape health outcomes and health inequalities.

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Spatial Microsimulation is a quantitative geographical technique used to create simulated data by combining, or merging various datasets to populate and therefore create a new synthetic population that is as close as possible to the 'real’ population with an inbuilt geography.


SIMALBA: A spatial microsimulation model for Scotland (Funded by the ESRC and The Scottish Government)
(Ministry of Health PhD Scholarship: SimAotearoa - a spatial microsimulation model for policy analysis in NZ


To undertake Microsimulation of health and socio-economic variables at small area geographies
To create a powerful policy-relevant framework for NZ that will assist in assessing both current and future policy scenarios
To refine and develop existing modeling methods to become more policy relevant and that can be applied to NZ


  • Campbell M. and Ballas D. (2016) SimAlba: A spatial microsimulation approach to the analysis of health inequalities. Frontiers in Public Health 4(OCT)
  • Campbell, M.H. and Ballas, D. (2013) A spatial microsimulation approach to economic policy analysis in Scotland. Regional Science Policy & Practice 5(3): 263–288. (Journal Articles)
  • Ballas, D., Campbell, M., Clarke, G., Hanaoka, K., Nakaya, T. and Waley, P. (2012) A spatial microsimulation approach to small area income estimation in Britain and Japan. Studies in Regional Science 42(1): 163-187. (Journal Article)
  • Campbell, M.H. and Ballas, D. (2012) Social and spatial inequalities in Scotland: A spatial microsimulation approach. Edinburgh, UK: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, 3-5 Jul 2012.(Conference Contribution - Oral presentation)
  • Campbell, M. and Ballas, D. (2011) A spatial microsimulation approach to the analysis of health and wealth inequalities in Scotland. Harokopio University of Athens, Greece: The 17th European Colloquium on Quantitative and Theoretical Geography (ECQTG2011), 4 Sep 2011. (Conference Contribution - Oral presentation)
  • Campbell, M.H. (2011) Exploring the social and spatial inequalities of ill-health in Scotland: A spatial microsimulation approach. PhD, Univeristy of Sheffield, UK. (Thesis - Doctor of Philosophy)

Staff involved

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