Study: Road traffic you hear is linked to a higher obesity risk

The study did not look into what causes the link between road traffic noise and obesity, but it’s suggested that it’s because noise stresses us out, which in turn limits sleep.

Photo: Antonio DiCaterina

What causes our weight to fluctuate up? We may point fingers at the food we eat, the sleep we do not get, the exercise we do not do, but a new study in Environment International links obesity to an unsuspecting source — road traffic noise.

Long-term exposure to road traffic increases risk of obesity

If you live in a bustling metropolis, your everyday soundtrack is bound to be filled with the melody of honks, rumbling motors, and car screeches. This can cause unseen havoc to our bodies, the new research suggests.

Through participation from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, the researchers assessed 3796 adults who took part in the population-based study and measured their weight, height, body mass index, waist circumference, and abdominal fat, in addition to their exposure to transportation noise.

“Our analysis shows that people exposed to the highest levels of traffic noise are at greater risk of being obese” ISGlobal research Maria Foraster, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “For example, we observed that a 10 dB increase in mean noise level was associated with a 17% increase in obesity.”

Even participants who did their best to limit their exposure by closing windows at night or having the bedroom facing the backyard did not have changed results, suggesting that sustained exposure to road traffic has a greater influence on us than individual actions we can do.

Something in particular with road traffic gets us our internal systems going. The researchers also examined what happened when participants got exposed to aircraft and railway traffic noise and did not find significant associations, except for a link between long-term exposure to railway noise and being overweight.

The study did not look into what causes the link between road traffic noise and obesity, but ISGlobal suggests that it is because noise stresses us out, which in turn limits our sleep and can increase our risk of obesity.

The best way to reverse these effects? Go to the source and limit traffic noise. “Our findings suggest that reducing traffic-related noise could also be a way of combating the obesity epidemic,” Foraster said.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.