Several studies have shown an association between exposure to the sound of traffic and increased risk of hypertension (elevated blood pressure). However, it was still unclear whether noise or the air pollution linked to high levels of traffic played a larger role. Moreover, these studies were cross-sectional: while they provided evidence that traffic noise and hypertension were linked, they failed to show a clear causal relationship.
Now, a team of researchers led by the Peking University in China has analyzed data from the UK Biobank from over 240,000 people aged 40 to 69, who started out without hypertension, while estimating road traffic noise based on their residential address and the Common Noise Assessment Method, a model developed by the European Union to assess levels of exposure of European citizens to a variety of noises.
By using follow-up data for an average period of 8.1 years, the researchers found not only that individuals exposed to road traffic noise were more likely to develop hypertension, but also that this risk increased proportionally with the levels of noise experienced. This association was robust even after adjusting for exposure to air pollution.
“Road traffic noise and traffic-related air pollution coexist around us,” said study lead author Jing Huang, an assistant professor in Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at Peking. “It is essential to explore the independent effects of road traffic noise, rather than the total environment.”
These findings call for the development of public health measures to alleviate the negative impact of road traffic noise, including setting stricter noise guidelines and enforcement, improving road conditions and urban design, and investing in building quieter vehicles.
“To date, this is the first large-sized prospective study directly addressing the effect of road traffic noise on the incidence of newly-diagnosed hypertension,” said Jiandong Zhang, an expert in cardiovascular disease at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and lead author of an accompanying editorial comment. “The data demonstrated in this article provides a higher quality of evidence to justify the potential to modify road traffic noise and air pollution from both individual and societal levels in improving cardiovascular health.”
The study is published in the journal JAAC Advances.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer
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