Chronic noise pollution harms the health and well-being of children

Researchers have found that low-level chronic noise pollution resulting from everyday local traffic can have serious health implications for children, increasing levels of stress hormones, and raising blood pressure and heart rate.

The study, conducted in small towns and villages in an alpine region of Austria, involved the analysis of 115 nine and ten-year-olds, with half being exposed to sounds below 50 decibels, and the other half living in noisier areas with sounds above 60 decibels.

The researchers found that constant noise can trigger higher levels of anxiety and nervousness when the children are exposed to further stress, such as when having to take exams. “We also found that girls exposed to the traffic noise become less motivated, presumably from the sense of helplessness that can develop from noise they couldn’t control,” said Gary Evans from Cornell University, one of the researchers on the project, who also studies environmental stresses such as crowding and air pollution.

Importantly, say the researchers, the increase in childhood stress could have a knock-on effect later on in life. “Anything that increases blood pressure, for example, has negative implications for long-term health effects,” said Peter Lercher, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Hygiene and Social Medicine at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. High childhood blood pressure is thought to be an indicator of the same complaint in adulthood, he explained. Increases in stress hormones are also linked to adult illnesses, some of which are life-threatening, again including high blood pressure, but also high levels of cholesterol, heart disease, and a lowering of the body’s immunity.

The research is published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, and was supported predominantly by the Austrian Ministry of Science and Transportation, and also by the Fulbright Commission, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Cornell University.

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