People living near a noisy road are at more risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to a UK study.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Leicester have identified a connection between traffic noise and obesity, with those living near a motorway or on a busy road for a long period of time being associated with a greater body mass index and waist circumference.

More than 100 million European live in areas where road traffic noise is greater levels than 55dB, which is the health-based threshold established by the EU.

This is the largest study so far which has investigated noise and obesity. Researchers looked at data covering more than 500,000 people from three databases, from UK, Norway and the Netherlands.

According to the results, there was an association between noise and weight in the UK and Norway, although this was not found in the Netherlands. The researchers were unable to confirm a causal relationship, but say the finding of the study do match similar studies carried out in other European countries.

Lead researcher Dr Samuel Yutong Cai, from the University of Oxford, said: “While modest, the data revealed an association between those living in high traffic-noise areas and obesity, at around a 2% increase in obesity prevalence for every 10dB of added noise. The association persisted even when we accounted for a wide range of lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol use, physical activity and diet, as well as when taking into account socio-economic status of both individuals and the overall area. Air pollution was also accounted for, especially those related to traffic.”

Professor Anna Hansell, of the University of Leicester, who was co-author, added: “It is well-known that unwanted noise can affect quality of life and disturb sleep. Recent 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.”

Professor Hansell is also investigating the health impact of other noise pollutants in the UK, including aircraft noise.

Dr Cai added: “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.

“As we emerge and recover from COVID-19, we would encourage the government to look at policies that could manage traffic better and make our public spaces safer, cleaner and quieter.”

The research was published in the journal Environmental Research.

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