Traffic fatalities and air pollution from automobiles identified among top causes of premature death worldwide

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified traffic fatalities, particularly those affecting vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and young people, as has a huge, overlooked, and largely preventable health problem.

A separate study recently published in the Lancet identifies air pollution from automobiles as the world's fastest-growing cause of death. 

Crosswalk by iPhil Photos on FlickR -
Crosswalk by iPhil Photos on FlickR -

The Washington Post summarizes the WHO study:

Traffic injuries are the leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24 around the world -- a huge, overlooked and largely preventable public health problem, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

In a new report, the organization promoted a long list of suggestions to developing countries, where most of the deaths and disabling injuries occur. The improvements include safer roads and vehicles, better urban planning, helmet laws, prosecution of speeders and drunken drivers, better education of the driving and walking public, and simple interventions such as putting reflective tape on backpacks.

"It is a big public health issue for kids, and we can do something about it," said Etienne Krug, a physician who heads WHO's department for injury and violence prevention.

As does most of the public health world, WHO eschews the term "traffic accidents." In a statement accompanying the report, the organization's new director-general, Margaret Chan, said that "road traffic crashes are not 'accidents.' We need to challenge the notion that they are unavoidable."

About 30 percent of all traffic deaths worldwide -- roughly 400,000 each year -- are of people younger than 25. Although teenage and young-adult drivers are at greatest risk, younger age groups also have high mortality. In 2002, traffic injuries were the third leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 9, behind pneumonia and AIDS. About 46 percent of traffic deaths in sub-Saharan Africa occurred in that age group that year.

Vice summarizes the Lancet study:


Cars, once again, are killing us. They're killing us in crashes and accidents, yes, and they're encouraging us to grow obese and then killing us a little more slowly. But, more than ever before, they're killing us with their pollution. 

Particulate air pollution, along with obesity, is now the two fastest-growing causes of death in the world, according to a new study published in the Lancet.

The study found that in 2010, 3.2 million people died prematurely from the air pollution–particularly the sooty kind that spews from the exhaust pipes of cars and trucks. And of those untimely deaths, 2.1 million were in Asia, where a boom in car use has choked the streets of India and China's fast-expanding cities with smog. 

The Guardian reports that "Worldwide, a record 3.2m people a year died from air pollution in 2010, compared with 800,000 in 2000. It now ranks for the first time in the world's top 10 list of killer diseases, says the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study."

Photo credit: Crosswalk by iPhil Photos on FlickR.  License: BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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