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Long Term Exposure to Road Traffic Noise May Increase Obesity Risk

Summary: A new study reports those exposed to the highest levels of noise pollution caused by traffic are at an increased risk of obesity.


Long term exposure to road traffic noise is associated with increased risk of obesity. This was the conclusion of a study involving the participation of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a research centre supported by the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation. The study has been published in Environment International.

The authors of this study wanted to find out whether new research would confirm the results of the few earlier studies that had demonstrated associations between traffic noise and several markers for obesity. To do this, they studied 3796 adults who took part in the population-based Swiss SAPALDIA cohort study and had attended at least two follow-up visits between 2001 and 2011. The study is based on objective measures, such as the participants’ weight, height, body mass index, waist circumference, and abdominal fat. These data were analysed together with estimates of exposure to transportation noise developed in the context of the Swiss SiRENE project.

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

The study authors also analysed exposure to noise generated by aircraft and railway traffic and found no significant associations except in the case of long-term exposure to railway noise, which was associated with a higher risk of overweight but not of obesity.


Road traffic is a major source of noise. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Nabeel Syed.

The methodology and design of the study were chosen to allow the authors to look at the data from two different perspectives. Cross-sectional analysis was used to study the participant population at a specific time point in the study and to examine more objective measures. The longitudinal design, on the other hand, allowed the authors to evaluate how the risk of obesity evolved over the study period. The associations with traffic-related noise pollution were consistent in both cases. Overweight was only associated with exposure to traffic-related noise in the cross-sectional analysis. The authors found no association between noise exposure and body mass index measured continuously throughout the longitudinal analysis.

“Our study contributes additional evidence to support the hypothesis that traffic-related noise affects obesity because the results we obtained in a different population were the same as those reported by the authors of earlier studies. Nevertheless, more longitudinal studies are needed to confirm the association and to examine certain inconsistencies in the data which, to date, have prevented us from formulating an explanation accepted by the scientific community as a whole”, explains Maria Foraster.

Unfortunately, sustained exposure to noise pollution is a widespread public health problem that is more serious than previously thought. Noise generates stress and affects our sleep. It alters hormone levels and increases blood pressure. Moreover, among other effects, sleep disturbance deregulates glucose metabolism and alters the appetite. “In the long term, these effects could give rise to chronic physiological alterations, which would explain the proven association between persistent exposure to traffic-related noise and cardiovascular disease or the more recently discovered associations with diabetes and obesity. Our findings suggest that reducing traffic-related noise could also be a way of combating the obesity epidemic” adds Maria Foraster.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), Swiss Federal Office for the Environment funded this study.

Source: Pau Rubio – ISGLOBAL
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Nabeel Syed.
Original Research: Open access research for “Long-term exposure to transportation noise and its association with adiposity markers and development of obesity” by Foraster M, Eze IC, Vienneau D, Schaffner E, Jeong A, Héritier H, Rudzik F, Thiesse L, Pieren R, Brink M, Cajochen C, Wunderli JM, Röösli M, Probst-Hensch N in Environment International. Published October 18 2018.

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
ISGLOBAL”Long Term Exposure to Road Traffic Noise May Increase Obesity Risk.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 19 November 2018.
ISGLOBAL(2018, November 19). Long Term Exposure to Road Traffic Noise May Increase Obesity Risk. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/obesity-traffic-noise-10230/
ISGLOBAL”Long Term Exposure to Road Traffic Noise May Increase Obesity Risk.” http://neurosciencenews.com/obesity-traffic-noise-10230/ (accessed November 19, 2018).


Long-term exposure to transportation noise and its association with adiposity markers and development of obesity

The contribution of different transportation noise sources to metabolic disorders such as obesity remains understudied. We evaluated the associations of long-term exposure to road, railway and aircraft noise with measures of obesity and its subphenotypes using cross-sectional and longitudinal designs.

We assessed 3796 participants from the population-based Swiss Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Lung and Heart Diseases (SAPALDIA), who attended the visits in 2001 (SAP2) and 2010/2011 (SAP3) and who were aged 29–72 at SAP2. At SAP2 we measured body mass index (BMI, kg/m2). At SAP3 we measured BMI, waist circumference (centimetres) and Kyle body Fat Index (%) and derived overweight, central and general obesity. Longitudinally for BMI, we derived change in BMI, incidence of overweight and obesity and a 3-category outcome combining the latter two. We assigned source-specific 5-year mean noise levels before visits and during follow-up at the most exposed dwelling façade (Lden, dB), using Swiss noise models for 2001 and 2011 and participants’ residential history. Models were adjusted for relevant confounders, including traffic-related air pollution.

Exposure to road traffic noise was significantly associated with all adiposity subphenotypes, cross-sectionally (at SAP3) [e.g. beta (95% CI) per 10 dB, BMI: 0.39 (0.18; 0.59); waist circumference: 0.93 (0.37; 1.50)], and with increased risk of obesity, longitudinally (e.g. RR = 1.25, 95% CI: 1.04; 1.51, per 10 dB in 5-year mean). Railway noise was significantly related to increased risk of overweight. In cross-sectional analyses, we further identified a stronger association between road traffic noise and BMI among participants with cardiovascular disease and an association between railway noise and BMI among participants reporting bad sleep. Associations were independent of the other noise sources, air pollution and robust to all adjustment sets. No associations were observed for aircraft noise.

Long-term exposure to transportation noise, particularly road traffic noise, may increase the risk of obesity and could constitute a pathway towards cardiometabolic and other diseases.

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