Could Traffic Noise Lead to Weight Gain?

Traffic noise might be doing more than just keeping you awake at night. A study recently published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal found a correlation between traffic noise and obesity.

By using detailed maps and addresses around Stockholm, Sweden, a research team at the Institute of Environmental Medicine was able to identify which locations were prone to more traffic noise from cars, aircrafts, or trains. They then compared this to the data of 5,712 men and women’s measurements, eating habits, and physical activity levels, and discovered that those living in heavy traffic regions had higher central obesity (waist size) than those living in regions with less traffic noise.

While the team was unable to make a direct connection between traffic noise and obesity, they do believe it could be a cause. “Sleep is an important modulator of hormonal release, glucose regulation and cardiovascular function,” wrote Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study. They believe that sleep disturbances (say, coming from a train rolling by at 4 a.m.) can influence people’s metabolic functions, lead to a rise in appetite, reduce energy expenditure, and increase production of cortisol, the hormone that deals with stress. The study noted that increased cortisol can lead to fat stores, specifically around the waist.

This isn’t the first time the negative effects of noise pollution have been brought to light. The EPA found noise pollution can lead to stress-related illness, high blood pressure, and sleep disruption. In fact, sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea may increase the risk for obesity simply because they limit the amount of quality zzzz’s you get.