Say What? Traffic Noise Can Make You Fat

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Driving instead of walking certainly can expand your waistline. But there is another less obvious way that vehicle traffic may affect the size of your pants.

Exposure to noise from road traffic, railways and aircraft is associated with a “significantly” increased risk of abdominal obesity, according to a study recently published by the international peer-reviewed journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

This type of obesity — also known as “central obesity” — includes what laypeople often describe as a beer belly, spare tire or love handles.

The study is based on data from more than 5,000 Swedish men and women who live in suburban and semi-rural areas.

Every 5-decibel increase in traffic noise was associated with a 0.21-centimeter (close to 0.1 of an inch) increase in waist circumference.

Dr. Alvin H. Strelnick, chief of the Division of Community Health and a professor at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, tells CBS News the study has limitations. For example, it uses estimated noise exposures and includes a sample population with an elevated diabetes risk.

But he says it warrants further research:

Most of the harms we look at from noise pollution involve damage to hearing…

This study highlights that noise is ubiquitous and there may be other, more subtle long-term effects that we haven’t been paying attention to.

One reason traffic noise may be associated with waist circumference is because such noise can disturb sleep, according to the study.

That’s noteworthy, because sleep helps regulate hormone and glucose (blood sugar) levels and cardiovascular health. Sleep may also affect the immune system, appetite, energy and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

According to the study:

Furthermore, noise exposure may induce a stress response through activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system. A long-lasting activation of [these systems] is detrimental to health and may lead to elevated levels of cortisol, thereby promoting central fat deposition.

So, if you’re worried about your waistline — or the rest of your health — get some sleep. And perhaps some earplugs. (Reading “A Free 2-Step Solution For More Sleep” also could help.)

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