Traffic noise can increase risk of depression and anxiety disorders

An appeal for a 30 km/h speed limit in cities and more protection against railroad and aircraft noise

View on rails with a suburban train, behind it city panoramaClick to enlarge
City living must not come at the cost of health and quality of life
Source: Christiane Bunge / UBA

It has been known for a long time that constant noise can lead to cardiovascular diseases. A new study done on behalf of the German Environment Agency shows that incessant traffic noise can also increase the risk of depression. A 10-decibel increase in road, railroad and aircraft noise can raise that risk by up to four, five and eleven percent; the figure for anxiety disorder rises by three to 15 percent. UBA President Dirk Messner said, “Noise is still a grossly underestimated health risk in Germany. Many people are exposed to high levels of noise pollution which is impairing health and cutting quality of life. This is why making our cities quieter and thus more appealing is an important task for researchers and policymakers!”

To adequately protect people from the negative effects of environmental noise on mental and physical health, the German Environment Agency recommends introducing a speed limit of 30 km/h as the standard in cities and improving protection against night-time noise. To achieve this would require the introduction of a wake-up criterion for rail traffic, and regular flight operations should no longer take place between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. at airports in densely populated areas.

In addition to a systematic meta-analysis of the scientific literature, the study also conducted what are known as epidemiological studies. These studies monitor and survey large groups of the population to assess health risks. The present project reanalysed data from NORAH, Germany’s largest noise study, and evaluated data from the current LIFE Adult Study in the Leipzig area. The LIFE Adult Study is a cohort study, which means that the same group of people are sampled at regular intervals over a long period of time.

The results of the study are particularly reliable thanks to the versatile methodological approach with systematic literature reviews as well as population samples from different regions (Rhine-Main area, Leipzig), which show comparable results. The study also provides empirical confirmation of the long-term health impacts of night-time awakening due to railroad noise. Data analysis of the LIFE Study of adults revealed that the risk of anxiety disorder or depression nearly doubles for three or more railroad noise-related night-time awakening reactions. However, the LIFE Adult Study is a comparatively new cohort study (launched in 2011). Some 43 percent of the people included in the first survey could not be reassessed five years later, a situation which might be related to the difficult conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Selection-related distortions of data from the LIFE Adult Study can therefore not be ruled out. A follow-up assessment after ten years is recommended.

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 aircraft noise  rail noise  30-kmh speed limit  traffic noise  depression  health disorder