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Socially awkward: how can we better promote walking as a social behaviour?
  1. Ruth F Hunter1,
  2. Kylie Ball2,
  3. Olga L Sarmiento3
  1. 1UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health/Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  2. 2Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3School of Medicine, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ruth F Hunter, Institute of Clinical Sciences B, UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health/Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT12 6BJ, Uk; ruth.hunter{at}qub.ac.uk

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Walking is a social behaviour

Walking—whether for exercise, recreation or transport—often occurs within the bounds of the families, communities and neighbourhoods in which we live. It is a behaviour shaped by our physical and social environment, including social norms and networks.1 Recent advocacy work has seen great strides made in calling for changing the physical (built) environment to support physical activity and walking behaviour. However, built environments are difficult and costly to change. Using inherent social structures in our societies may provide a cost-efficient way of encouraging people to walk and better use the built environment in which we live, work and play, and promote population-level change. These social factors may also have a key role to play in the maintenance of walking behaviour (as we are all embedded in these networks) and ‘scaling up’ nationwide and worldwide interventions (based on the principles of social norms).

Walking, as a social behaviour, is influenced by our social networks (ie, the people around us). Social norms—the standards of behaviour that are considered acceptable or appealing in a group or society—are also important for walking. Yet seldom are these networks or norms taken into account when promoting walking behaviour, and they are subsequently underutilised in our interventions.2 Promoting walking to individuals without considering these social constructs inherent in ‘social settings’ (such as schools, workplaces, parks, neighbourhoods, streets and public spaces) may risk missing opportunities to more effectively produce behaviour change or maintained behaviour change. We may also be missing …

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