Traffic congestion causes hotspots of air pollution and road traffic accidents

Road traffic holdups reduce air quality and increase risk of accidents

Traffic congestion is a public health issue. It increases air pollution which is a known cause of asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and in particular creates "hotspots" of low air quality borne by local residents.  It increases the risk of traffic accidents through poor driver behaviour and judgement.

One morning last week, I was stuck in a traffic jam several miles long on the A40 outside Oxford, caused by the super-duper high-flow-thru roundabout at Headington being brought to a halt by roadworks eliminating one lane on one exit and a traffic light failing on another!

Those of you who commute to Oxford will pick up my ironic tone: we have had to endure doubling of commuting times & traffic jams for the past 2 years as Oxford has “improved” each roundabout by turn around the ring road!

Philosophical (I wasn’t going anywhere fast), I found myself wishing the clock turned back to a time when most people lived and worked in the same town, and then I moved on to wishing for a reality where “pass me the floo powder and where is the nearest fireplace?”[Harry Potter], or “beam me up scotty!” [Star Trek]  were actual options. These options would improve my quality of life, my health, and my climate. And of course everyone else’s.

It was also not lost on me, in that traffic jam, that this month [March 2016] my colleague and I had made Air Pollution the theme for our free electronic public health newsletter (to receive this, sign up here Global Health Knowledge Base).

I had just written a blog on air pollution caused by traffic jams in India, China, and why it’s the particulates, released by soot & fuel, that we measure for air quality & health. In the blog, Air pollution, can we reduce the impact of cars on urban air quality? , I had hoped that  emerging economies were going to learn from the mistakes of the UK and other “developed” countries. And there I was in the mistake.

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August babies lack self-esteem

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This week we heard that being born in August in England leads to lack of self-esteem and a lifelong tendency to underachieve (Does when you are born matter?, from Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS)). This appears to be a follow-up study to one focussed on primary school children in 2007, and it certainly got covered well: BBC, Guardian and Telegraph to name just a few.

Speaking as an August baby, the only reason why I grew up lacking confidence and my brother, also an August baby, lacked self-esteem (note the difference between us) was that we had a father who was, frankly, a bully. For us, school was an escape; weekends could be very hard.

So you can imagine what I first thought when I heard about the study on BBC Radio4 Tuesday morning (1/11/2011). My second more rational thought was about this link to underachievement, with 20% less of us going to Russell Group universities. Is it linked to our school year starting in September, is it therefore confined to the UK? Is it linked to day length? Is there a difference between decades reflecting changes in society?

The answer to my questions would lie in studies of August-born children in northern France, or southern parts of Scandinavia, or closer to home, Eire.  Or looking at other countries which have cut-off dates for school entry. Very close to home, it’s February cut-off in Scotland.

I went looking on CABI's public health database, Global Health, for studies on health or educational attainment or adult socioeconomic status, which others may have also linked to birth month (see Further Reading for some examples).

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Handwashing: harnessing the yuck factor to improve public health

The recent E. coli O104:H4 outbreak has set us thinking about handwashing again. (We've tackled it before in  Now wash your hands)

It’s very difficult to change people’s behaviour  and to prove my point,  just watch this video
Do Shocking Images Change Hygiene Behavior”.  The video refers to a study from University of Denver "Using a relevant threat, EPPM and interpersonal communication to change hand-washing behaviours on campus" which found that making you feel awful about what might be on your hands works better than appealing to the conscience.

But as well as “yuck” factor signs which seem to work on the Denver students,  I wondered what else could be done..

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