Long-term exposure to traffic noise may lead to weight gain

A new study by the University of Leicester and the University of Oxford has found a connection between increased 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 data revealed an association between those living in high traffic-noise areas and obesity, at around a 2 per cent increase in obesity prevalence for every 10dB of added noise.

Published today in the journal Environmental Health, 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.

Professor Anna Hansell from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability is a co-author on the study. She said: “It is well-known that unwanted noise can affect quality of life and disturb sleep. 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.”

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.

Dr Samuel Yutong Cai, senior epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: “On the individual level, sticking to a healthy lifestyle remains a top strategy to prevent obesity, 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

“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.”