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Road Traffic Noise May Increase Belly Fat and Reduce Life Expectancy

Road Traffic Noise May Increase Belly Fat and Reduce Life Expectancy

There are plenty of reasons for that belly fat of yours—but who knew noisy roads could be one of them?

One of the many reasons people move to the city is for its charming combination of constant activity, weird smells, and crabby drivers. (Kidding. Sort of.) Traffic noise, while annoying, is admittedly one of the most appealing parts of the city life equation: It’s the ultimate definition of going places, both literally and in the broader, more ambitious sense.

That said, it could also be doing a number on your health. Two recent unrelated studies have revealed exposure to traffic noise could be linked to increased belly fat, risk of stroke, and shortened lifespan.

The first study, published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, found that chronic exposure to the traffic trifecta—road, rail, and aircraft noise—may contribute to increased belly fat. Researchers analyzed government data to determine how much traffic noise 5,075 people living in Stockholm, Sweden, had been exposed to since 1999.

Researchers found that almost 70 percent of Stockholm residents were regularly exposed to traffic noise above 45 decibels. (According to the World Health Organization, any noise above 40 decibels is considered a health risk.) Over half had been exposed to one source of traffic noise, 15 percent to two sources, and 2 percent were exposed to all three.

While scientists didn’t find a link between traffic noise and overall BMI, they did notice a link between noise levels and increased risk of belly fat. More specifically, a 0.21 cm increase in waist size for every 5 decibel increase in road traffic noise exposure. What’s worse, belly fat risk rose from 25 percent among those exposed to one traffic source, and nearly doubled among those exposed to all three.

The study’s strictly observational, but researchers suggest the constant noise exposure could cause sleep disturbances, which may then lead to appetite, energy, metabolic, and cardiovascular issues. The added stress could also increase the body’s production of cortisol (the stress hormone), another factor thought to play a part in increased belly fat.

The second study, published in the European Heart Journal, analyzed data on 8.6 million people living in London between 2003 and 2010. It looked at road traffic noise levels—both during the day and at night—throughout different postal codes, and compared the data to deaths and hospital admissions in each area for adults and the elderly.

When daytime road traffic noise was more than 60 decibels, deaths were 4 percent more common among adults and the elderly than in areas where traffic noise was less than 55 decibels. Researchers feel the deaths are most likely linked to cardiovascular disease, due to increased blood pressure, sleep problems, and chronic stress from the noise.

Adults living in the noisiest areas were also 5 percent more likely to be admitted to the hospital for stroke, compared to adults living in quieter areas (this number went up to 9 percent in the elderly). Meanwhile, nighttime traffic was linked to a 5 percent increase of stroke risk in the elderly.

Being that every individual is built differently, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the noise impacts each person specifically, but study authors feel the work raises important questions about urban noise that should be investigated further. (It might be time to invest in those noise-cancelling headphones you’ve had your eye on.)

How do you deal with the crazy amount of noise pollution?

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City woman image via Shutterstock

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