Transport noise is a major problem in Europe, with over 100 million people living in areas where road traffic noise exceeds levels greater than 55dB, the health-based threshold set by the EU.
A new study by the University of Oxford and the University of Leicester has found a connection between traffic noise and obesity. Long-term exposure to road traffic noise, such as living near a motorway or on a busy road, was associated with an increase in body mass index and waist circumference, which are key markers of obesity. The study was published today in the journal Environmental Research.
“While modest, the data revealed an association between those living in high traffic-noise areas and obesity, at around a 2% increase in obesity prevalence for every 10dB of added noise. The association persisted even when we accounted for a wide range of lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol use, physical activity and diet, as well as when taking into account socio-economic status of both individuals and the overall area. Air pollution was also accounted for, especially those related to traffic.”
–Dr. Samuel Yutong Cai, lead study author and a senior epidemiologist at the University of Oxford
Noise Exposure and Obesity
This is the largest study to date on noise and obesity, looking at data on over 500,000 people from three European biobanks in the UK, Norway and the Netherlands.
Links between noise and weight were found in the UK and Norway, but not the Netherlands cohort. While the study is unable to confirm a causal relationship, the results echo those from a number of previous studies conducted in other European countries.
“It is well-known that unwanted noise can affect quality of life and disturb sleep. Recent studies have raised concerns that it also may influence general health, with some studies suggesting links to heart attacks and diabetes. Road traffic noise may increase stress levels, which can result in putting on weight, especially around the waist.”
–Professor Anna Hansell, co-author and Director of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability
“On the individual level, sticking to a healthy lifestyle remains a top strategy to prevent obesity,” says Dr Cai. “However, at the population level, these results could have some policy implications. Environmental policies that target reducing traffic noise exposure may help tackle many health problems, including obesity.”
Led by Professor Hansell, work is ongoing to investigate other sources of noise in the UK, such as aircraft noise, and its effect on health outcomes. In the future, long-term follow-up studies would be valuable in providing more information on how the relationship between noise and weight functions.
“As we emerge and recover from COVID-19, we would encourage the government to look at policies that could manage traffic better and make our public spaces safer, cleaner and quieter,” says Dr Cai.
“Air pollution is already a well-known health risk, but we now have increasing evidence that traffic noise is an equally important public health problem. The UK should take this opportunity to think about how we can, as a society, re-organise cities and communities to support our health and reap better health outcomes across the whole population.”
–Dr. Samuel Yutong Cai
Cai Y, Zijlema WL, Sorgjerd EP, et al. Impact of road traffic noise on obesity measures: observational study of three European cohorts. Environmental Research. 2020;110013. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.110013
About Oxford University
Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the third year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation. Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions. Through its research commercialisation arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 170 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years.
About the University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is led by discovery and innovation – an international centre for excellence renowned for research, teaching and broadening access to higher education. It is among the top 25 universities in the Times Higher Education REF Research Power rankings with 75% of research adjudged to be internationally excellent with wide-ranging impacts on society, health, culture, and the environment. The University is home to just over 20,000 students and approximately 4,000 staff. Find out more: https://le.ac.uk/about