It turns out that the salty old bartender at your neighborhood pub or favorite dive might not be the cause of your beer belly—it could be your local air traffic controller.
A recent Swedish study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine is giving new meaning to the term "noise pollution." According to researchers, exposure to noise—especially a combination of road, rail, and airplane traffic noise—can add inches to your waistline.
And while most of us who are not in our twilight years don't give noise pollution much of a second thought, this news could be leaving us city-dwellers in serious search of a pastoral retreat, or a vat of industrial pasta salad large enough to fill the vacant hole in our schedules, if dieting is futile after all.
You heard it, sheeple. Living in a noisy environment correlates with central obesity.
The study considered environmental pollution from three sources: planes, trains, and automobiles. It assessed how much noise from these sources 5,075 people between the ages of 43 and 66 had been exposed to since 1999. Some lived near Stockholm's main airport, Arlanda, and all were part of the Stockholm Diabetes Prevention Program that took place in the 90s.
Fifty-four percent of the study's participants had been exposed to one significant source of traffic noise, 15 percent to two sources, and 2 percent to all three.
Oddly, given the results of the study, no link was found between exposure to traffic noise and BMI, or body mass index, which is often used as a measure of healthy weight range. According to the CDC, "a high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness." But thankfully, noise and general fatness are not correlated, according to the study.
However, noise and waist size were found to be correlated. For women, every five decibels of noise meant a .21 centimeter increase in their waist size, and for men, every five decibels of noise meant a .16 centimeter increase in waist-to-hip ratio.
Unsurprisingly, the worst of the three sources of noise was aircraft noise. But the urban symphony that is all three noises combined together proved to be the most detrimental. Suck it, Brahms.
John Candy's estate should totally be taking legal action against the producers of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles any moment now.
Those exposed to one source of noise (for example, just auto traffic) had a 25 percent risk of developing a larger waist. Those exposed to all three sources (trains, planes, and cars) had almost a 50 percent risk of central body obesity. That's a lot of risk for truly no reward.
And, evidently, we're not just talking about low-income people who are stuck living someplace where they are on a first-name basis with the Hertz airport-shuttle driver and often find stowaway bags in their mailbox. The findings, according to the researchers, were "not influenced by socioeconomic factors, lifestyle, or exposure to ambient air pollution."
Are you thinking: why in the world would noise cause stomach fat? Well, the researchers speculate as follows: exposure to noise is a source of stress, which may lead to an overproduction of the hormone cortisol, which is known to cause belly fat. And, of course, central body fat is the worst kind of fat for your health, screwing up your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cardiac risk factors.
The cortisol-stress connection "may explain why the effects of noise were mainly seen for markers of central obesity, such as waist circumference and waist-hip ratio, rather than for generalized obesity, measured by BMI," according to the researchers.
My advice: invest in a serious ambient noise system or make a friend who has an audio recorder and access to the migratory routes of blue whales, who could supply their soothing ocean chatter. That, or say goodbye to all that you hold dear about city life, and get your literal Footloose on.