Mobility and Transport

Clean transport, Urban transport

Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) for cycling and walking

Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) for cycling and walking

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Overview and Key features 

The WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT)* for cycling (and walking) enables policy makers at the local, regional and national levels to estimate the economic value of the health benefits of increased cycling (and/or walking).    

*Heat tool primarily compares the investment costs with health benefits from cycle use

Function and objectives 

Increasing levels of physical activity, e.g. as a direct result of specific policy intervention, improve the health of those concerned. This is an important benefit from policies that aim to, and result in, higher levels of physical activity, specifically cycling and walking. HEAT assists policy-makers quantify the associated health benefits in order to subsequently be included in any economic assessment of the benefits of a specific measure or set of measures. 

Range of alternatives 

In addition to estimating the economic value of the health benefits associated with increases in cycling and/or walking, HEAT can also be used to estimate the way in which air pollution and road crashes affect these results. The tool estimates the effects of air pollution and crashes on those people who increase their physical activity. It effectively estimates the impact on these people as a result of their increased exposure to air pollution and risk of accidents. HEAT can also be used to estimate the reductions in carbon emissions resulting from any reduction in motorised transport that occurs as a result of the increased amount of cycling (and/or walking).  

When applying the tool, users are able to change some default values, e.g. uptake period, trip or step length, speeds, mortality rate and air pollution concentration. These can be changed according to the measure on which the user is focusing. If, for example, a measure will largely affect university students or young people (or similarly, mainly affect older people), the default mortality rate can be amended to reflect that this age group will have a lower (or higher) mortality rate than the average population.       

Links with other measures 

The functioning of HEAT requires information. To this extent, there is a link to ‘Monitoring and Evaluation’, which is also information-based. Indeed, the results of previous monitoring activities can be used as inputs to the tool, while later monitoring can be used to identify inputs for the future use of the tool. More generally, HEAT can be used to estimate the economic benefits resulting from improved human health from the implementation of any measure that increases cycling, so there is a potential link to most cycling measures.    


The tool itself has no direct impacts; instead, it helps policy-makers to estimate the economic benefits of increased levels of cycling (and/or walking). This can be done with or without consideration of the increased exposure to air pollution and the increased risk of crashes. It also estimates the economic benefits of any subsequent carbon savings. 

The tool has been designed to facilitate its use by professional users, including those with no previous experience of impact assessment. It is based on transparent assumptions and the best available evidence. It effectively enables users to answer the following question: 

If X people regularly walk or cycle an amount of Y, what is the economic value of the health benefits that occur as a result of the reduction in mortality due to their physical activity?

The tool can be used to estimate the economic value of existing levels of cycling, the economic value of changes over time and to support the economic evaluation of new or existing projects, including the estimation of benefit-cost ratios. It has been designed to complement existing economic tools that are used to estimate the economic values of transport interventions, e.g. those that estimate the effect on emissions or congestion. HEAT can be used as part of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, or as a stand-alone tool.   

Parameters of success or failure  

HEAT can be used to estimate the health benefits resulting from increased levels of cycling and walking in any city. The one requirement is that the necessary data are available, or can be estimated.  

Users need to input a range of information, including the population size affected, their current levels of cycling (and/or walking), existing modal shares and the anticipated change in activity resulting from the specific measure. The latter in particular would need to take account of the topography of the city, whether or not the city is a tourist destination and the potential impact of the measure given the level of the city’s student population. 

The tool already exists and is available online and free to use, so there is little need for finance. The main time and human resources needed are to bring together the necessary information, to understand the tool and to use it. If the necessary data do not already exist, it will need to be estimated, e.g. from surveys, which will require some additional finance, time and human resources.  

Further Information