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What do High Gas Prices and Health Have in Common?

No one likes to pay $4 per gallon, but driving less helps some take a breath of relief.

Gas prices in Palo Alto are now $4 per gallon or more. This may hurt our pocketbooks but it helps our health. Why? Because one hidden health benefit is that the higher gas prices climb, the more likely people may be to park their guzzler and start riding a bike, walking or scootering to school and work.

We’re lucky in Palo Alto because it can be easy to get to many of the places we’d typically drive to without using a car. Our local Spare the Air program (an effort of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District) would certainly like to see that. The group educates people about air pollution and encourages us to change certain lifestyle behaviors to improve air quality here in the Bay Area—like walking or biking in lieu of driving.

Doctors tell us that our respiratory health benefits with fewer cars on the road, too. With fewer cars on the road, we can all breathe easier. Air pollution plays a well-documented role in asthma attacks, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. The group reports that nearly 12 percent of Californians have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma accounts for more than 17 million doctor office visits and nearly 2 million emergency department visits every year.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. This causes symptoms like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing.

Today, there are lots of health and education resources available for people of all ages who live with asthma. That’s something we can all be happy about—and it might even help us breathe a little easier the next time we park the car.

Do you have asthma?

Try this online screening assessment from American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology.

Janet Gardiner April 14, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I suffer from asthma, and I think it's awful that people frequently sit with their vehicle engines idling in parking lots, along the curb, in driveways, etc. In this day and age, engines don't need to be (or kept) warmed up--let alone in California!
Cynthia Greaves April 15, 2011 at 12:28 AM
After posting my article, I got a nice email from Liza Lutzker, California state asthma epidmiologist. She shared more current data than I cited. She says that the current estimate for asthma incidence is 13.5% -- representing over 5 million Californians. Hey neighbors - we need to get that statistic going down NOT up!
Cynthia Greaves April 15, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Agreed -- just a wasteful, bad habit.
Aaron Selverston April 15, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Here here!
Elliott Wright April 26, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Great article! I'm with a nonprofit called Canopy, and we recently received a grant from PAMF to plant trees at schools in East Palo Alto...specifically to help with this issue. Studies have found that trees filter the air of pollutants, produce oxygen, and help reduce childhood asthma. Kids on the east side of the 101 highway show much higher incidence and prevalence statistics for asthma, resulting in higher numbers of hospital and emergency visits. Thanks for everything you are doing to get the word out about asthma! Elliott

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