Death and Traffic

Highway 401 in Canada

The United States is a very rich place by global or historical standards, which means we need to pay more attention to directly addressing quality of life problems that can’t simply be solved with more money in your pocket. The myriad issues surrounding traffic jams ought to be high on the list, and here’s the latest news:

Air pollution triggers more heart attacks than using cocaine and poses as high a risk of sparking a heart attack as alcohol, coffee and physical exertion, scientists said on Thursday. Sex, anger, marijuana use and chest or respiratory infections and can also trigger heart attacks to different extents, the researchers said, but air pollution, particularly in heavy traffic, is the major culprit. The findings, published in The Lancet journal, suggest population-wide factors like polluted air should be taken more seriously when looking at heart risks, and should be put into context beside higher but relatively rarer risks like drug use. Tim Nawrot of Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said he hoped his findings would also encourage doctors to think more often about population level risks.

When I say that America’s health care spending doesn’t deliver much in terms of improved health, I more had this sort of thing in mind than the question of trimming fat in the actual health care system. It’s of course true that there’s trimmable fat in our delivery of health care, but there are also lots of better ways to make people healthier. Expending resources on preventing heart attacks by creating cleaner air is a wildly more cost-effective way of improving quality of life than is treating heart attacks. After all, treatment costs aside any sensible person given the choice would avoid the heart attack rather than go see an excellent doctor once it happens.