October 9th, 2013
People Who Live Near Airports at Increased Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Most previous research on the health effects of noise has focused on road noise. Now two new observational studies published in BMJ extend the research to noise from airports and provide fresh evidence that people who live near airports are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In the first paper, Anna Hansell and colleagues in the U.K. analyzed data from 3.6 million people living near Heathrow airport in London. People who lived in the noisiest areas had an elevated risk for stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. The findings were diminished, but remained significant, after adjustments for ethnicity, social deprivation, smoking (estimated through lung cancer mortality), road traffic noise exposure, and air pollution. The researchers reported a dose-response relationship, in which the increased risk was greatest in the 2% of the population who experienced the highest levels of noise.
The authors acknowledged that they were unable to completely control for confounding or ecological bias and called for “further work to understand better the possible health effects of aircraft noise.”
In the second paper, Andrew Correia and colleagues analyzed data from more than 6 million people on Medicare who lived in zip codes around 89 North American airports. They found that people who lived in zip codes with the top 10% of noise exposure had a significant increase in the risk for hospital admission for cardiovascular disease (after adjusting for age; sex; race; zip code level socioeconomic status and demographics; zip code level air pollution; and roadway density). They calculated that for older people living near airports, 2.3% of hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease could be attributed to aircraft noise.
In an accompanying editorial Steven Stansfeld placed the new studies in the context of previous research looking at the effects of environmental noise on cardiovascular disease. Despite the inevitable limitations of observational studies, he writes that the studies “provide preliminary evidence that aircraft noise exposure is not just a cause of annoyance, sleep disturbance, and reduced quality of life but may also increase morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease.”