Sustainable transport campaigners have called for a halt in road capacity expansion after a study linked car pollution with increased dementia risk.
Dementia is more common in people who live within 50m of a major road than those who live further away, according to the study published in The Lancet.
Of the 6.6M people it observed in Ontario, Canada, the researchers estimated up to one in ten dementia cases can be, in part, attributed to traffic exposure.
“Despite the growing impact of these diseases, little is known about their causes and prevention,” said lead author Dr Hong Chen, Public Health Ontario, Canada. “Our study suggests that busy roads could be a source of environmental stressors that could give rise to the onset of dementia.
”Increasing population growth and urbanisation has placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden,” Chen added. “More research to understand this link is needed, particularly into the effects of different aspects of traffic, such as air pollutants and noise.”
Car pollution, alongside obesity, is possibly the biggest public health challenge the UK faces and civil engineers can play a key part in tackling it, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.
Better use of our current roads system as opposed to more roads which will increase capacity is crucial, according to the Campaign’s sustainable transport spokeswoman Bridget Fox.
“We need to make the best use of capacity, getting freight onto rail, better public transport and more walking and cycling,” she said.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recently called on councils to design roads that promote smoother driving rather than the pollution-causing stop start traffic.