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Living near a busy road could be making you fat

Trying to lose weight? Consider moving house. New research suggests living near busy, noisy roads could be making you gain weight.

A study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that the noise of busy traffic, or even the noise generated by an busy or railway station, caused the body to trigger a survival reaction that results in getting fatter.

Just an increase of five decibels beyond the normal ambient noise level of 45 decibels was enough to trigger the reaction. For every five decible increase, waist size increased by 0.21cm, the study found.

Inhabitants of Tottenham Court Road in London had a 1.4cm larger waist on average, which is said to attributed to road noise levels that fequently reach 80 decibels. It noted the queen, who loves in Buckingham Palace, may also be affected by the 75-decibel noise average.

The scientific logic behind the weight gain stems from the body preparing for a crisis. Loud noises cause the body to store more fat because it believes food could be scarce in days to come. Over a prolonged period of time and without a crisis you just get fat, basically.

Not only that, those who live under a flight path, near a railway and a busy road were said to be twice as likely to be at risk of obesity – a disease that affects 25 per cent of adults in the UK (that’s 12 million adults), compared with a mere 3 per cent in the seventies. The figure is expected to rise to one in three by 2030.

The study assessed 5,075 people on how much road traffic, rail and aircraft noise they were subjected to in Stockholm, Sweden, since 1999. Each participant then had to answer a detailed questionnaire on current state of health, lifestyle, sleep patterns, job stress and levels of psychological distress.

Lead author Dr Andrei Pyko of the Karolinska Institute said of the findings: “Traffic noise is a common and increasing environmental exposure, primarily due to ongoing urbanisation and growth of the transport sector. 

“Road traffic is the dominating source, followed by railway and aircraft noise. Health effects related to traffic noise are widespread and span from annoyance, sleep disturbances and changes in stress hormone levels to adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.  

“Our results suggested associations with waist circumference primarily in the age group below 60 years.”  

The research noted the storage of fat around the belly is the most worrying as it is linked to diseases such as diabetes and that people who want to lose weight would be better off moving to more peaceful environments such as the countryside.

Road noise has also been linked to the chances of a stroke. Researchers in Copenhagen found that, for every 10-decibel increase in what your ears are subjected, the chance of having a stroke increased by a quarter.

It helps little that pollution from engines can lead to respiratory problems, with diesel engine emissions linked to 11,000 cancer deaths, 2,000 of which in the UK and 9,000 in the US.

Given the small sample of people, there are perhaps other factors that may have caused the waist size increase, but it’s hardly surprising those who swap the smell of carbon emissions and hustle and bustle for the smell of fresh grass and a quiet life have the potential to live healthier lives.


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