26 May 2015

Traffic noise ‘could raise obesity risk’

Living next to a busy road could increase the risk of obesity, according to research into the effects of noise pollution on waistlines.

Rush hour traffic in Birmingham (Getty Images)

Scientists say main roads often result in noise pollution from traffic, which can have an adverse reaction on residents’ sleeping patterns and therefore their willingness to exercise.

Those who live near particularly busy roads may consequently suffer from reduced energy levels following an interrupted night’s sleep, and then show a lower inclination to exercise, instead choosing a more sedentary lifestyle, the study suggested.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found those who live under a flight path or near an airport were most likely to suffer from weight problems as a result of noise pollution.

The study also found that for every five-decibel increase above the standard traffic noise level of 45dB, the average person gains an extra 0.2cm on their waist measurement.

Urbanisation and growth

Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, said: “Traffic noise is a common and increasing environmental exposure, primarily due to ongoing urbanisation and growth of the transport sector.

“Road traffic is the dominating source, followed by railway and aircraft noise. Health effects related to traffic noise are widespread and span from annoyance, sleep disturbances and changes in stress hormone levels to adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.

“Increasing evidence points to traffic noise as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, myocardial infarction and stroke. Recent findings suggest that traffic noise may also affect the metabolic system, for example, inducing central obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Traffic noise risk

According to the study of 5,075 men and women in Sweden, central obesity is associated with exposure to railway and aircraft noise, and a particularly high risk was seen for combined exposure to all sources of traffic noise.

Participants in areas with lower noise levels were more likely to have lived 10 years or more at the same address, have lower household income and report less sleep disturbances, the study in the BMJ’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine publication found.

Those exposed to higher noise levels were more likely to be single and report current smoking, psychological distress and noise annoyance.