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This Is Your Brain on Cars—Oh, and Your Lungs and Heart and Gut, Too
Posted By Catherine Lutz On May 17, 2011 @ 10:37 am In Air Quality,Cars,Public Health | 11 Comments
Gerontologists in a laboratory at the University of Southern California exposed a group of mice  to the same atmospheric conditions that humans encounter when driving along the freeway. Horrifyingly, they discovered that the mice’s brains showed the kind of swelling and inflammation associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The researchers didn’t super-dose to get these results: the mice were exposed to freeway air for the equivalent of 15 hours a week — less than the 18.5 hour average  Americans spend in their cars. Jokes aside about getting those darn mice off the road, the study suggests that driving less can reduce our risk of brain damage.
For decades, Americans have been hearing about the dangers of air pollution, much of which derives from our fleet of vehicles. Yet as the body of research has grown, clarifying just how damaging automobiles are to human health and the environment, we’ve persisted in spending an astounding amount of time in cars. As a nation, we drove three trillion miles last year. We have developed responses designed to treat symptoms of the underlying ailment, like keeping children indoors when the local ozone level triggers “code red” or “code purple” alerts. But as a whole, we have not responded to the everyday contamination of our bodies by driving less.
Most of us feel powerless  to affect air quality. Many feel trapped by the built environment and unable to cut down on driving. Plenty also see no point in changing their behavior when “everyone else” is going to drive as much as they wish to. It’s unsurprising then that news about pollution is brushed aside—as is news about other ills caused by driving, including crash fatalities and injuries, stress, and obesity.
The UCLA mouse study joined other recent reports that highlight the variety of ways in which remaining overly reliant on the private automobile is self-destructive. But these reports should also make clear that changes in individual behavior can alleviate some of the problems. Here’s just a sampling:
Meanwhile, auto industry commercials increasingly feature children , suggesting we best show our love for them when we put them into those manufacturers’ cars. But we should reject the self-serving advertising message that time spent with our families in a vehicle is quality time. In fact, the more we drive, the more our own family suffers physically and mentally.
Given that the 40 percent of all trips in urban areas are within two miles of the home and that a good number of us can choose to live closer to work, we do have the power to make our families’ lungs, hearts, brains, and waists healthier, starting today. Let’s make not strapping a child into a car seat a symbolic act of love.
Anne Lutz Fernandez, a former marketer and banker, and Catherine Lutz, an anthropologist at the Watson Institute at Brown University, are the authors of Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on our Lives  (Palgrave Macmillan).
Article printed from Streetsblog Capitol Hill: http://dc.streetsblog.org
URL to article: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/05/17/this-is-your-brain-on-cars%e2%80%94oh-and-your-lungs-and-heart-and-gut-too/
URLs in this post:
 exposed a group of mice: http://uscnews.usc.edu/university/freeway_air_damages_brains_of_mice.html
 18.5 hour average: http://www.arbitron.com/custom_research/in_car_study_09.htm
 Image: http://dc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/CarSeatBaby.jpg
 Lafayette County Health: http://www.lafayettecountyhealth.org/CarSeatInspections.html
 feel powerless: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/04/29/how-to-get-people-to-adopt-more-climate-friendly-behaviors/
 Sitting for long stretches: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17sitting-t.html
 State of the Air Report: http://www.stateoftheair.org/
 obese are at increased risk of injury: http://wardsauto.com/ar/obesity_safety_threat_110225/
 increasingly feature children: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6eEohNzSq0
 Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on our Lives: http://www.carjacked.org/
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