BARCELONA — If you live in a big city, you might want to consider beefing up your diet and fitness plans. A new study finds that prolonged exposure to traffic noise can lead to a greater risk of obesity.

Interestingly, wall-shaking engine blasts from air traffic or the head-pounding horns from trains don’t seem to have the same effect. Still, the authors argue that consistent exposure to noise pollution is a serious threat to public health.

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) analyzed data from 3,796 adults who took part in from a Swiss study that began in 1991. Individuals were assessed in at least two follow-up visits to measure their weight, height, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and abdominal fat between 2001 and 2011. The researchers cross-referenced body data with estimates of exposure to transportation and motor noise as developed by the Swiss SiRENE survey.

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

In addition to motor noise, Foraster and her team also estimated airplane noise and railway traffic for the cohort study participants. They found that while train and aircraft noise played little role in obesity risk, railroad sounds led to greater risk of a person being overweight. As for the cause of the link, that’s something that still needs to be fleshed out.

“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,” adds Foraster. “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.”

Researchers believe the issue is a “widespread public health problem” that’s even more pressing than believed. Longterm exposure to noise pollution can worsen stress, reduce sleep, and lead to blood pressure and hormonal problems.

“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,” concludes Foraster. “Our findings suggest that reducing traffic-related noise could also be a way of combating the obesity epidemic.”

The full study was published in the December 2018 edition of the journal Environmental International.

About Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at

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