NEW YORK — It would seem predictable that living in a noisy neighborhood would result in less sleep and greater stress for already-struggling low-income residents, thus leading to unhealthier lifestyles. But a surprising new study finds that poorer people who reside in New York City’s loudest communities may actually be benefiting from the noise, showing baffling health improvements compared to those in calmer settings.
Could the sound of frequently blaring car horns, police sirens, and constant chatter at all hours of the day and night make for a more fruitful lifestyle?
“Our study shows that neighborhood noise may have an indirect impact on health that is different from known risk factors, such as diet and sedentary lifestyles,” says senior study investigator and NYU Langone epidemiologist Dr. Dustin Duncan in a press release.
Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center studied 102 public housing residents who lived in the loudest neighborhoods of the city — such as the bustling Times Square in Manhattan, and all of downtown Queens. Most of the men and women earned no more than $25,000 per year and are enrolled in the New York City Low-Income Housing, Neighborhoods, and Health Study.
The ranking of noisy neighborhoods was based on the 145,000 noise complaints filed in 2014.
Participants carried a GPS tracking device for a week during the study to track the places where they spent most of their time while having their body weight and blood pressure monitored.
Incredibly, those who lived within a 5-block radius of areas with 1,000 noise complaints showed a body mass index (BMI) level 2.72 points lower than their likely BMI in a community with hypothetically zero noise complaints. A high BMI increases the risk of heart-related ailments in individuals, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
The same residents also showed a drop of 5.34 points in an individual’s systolic blood pressure compared to someone in quieter quarters.
Researchers say the shocking findings don’t necessarily mean that living in a loud neighborhood will result in someone becoming suddenly healthier.
“To be clear, we’re not saying that neighborhood noise causes better health, and a lot of further research is needed to explain the relationship we found between this kind of disturbance and health,” says Duncan. “It may just be that New York’s noisiest neighborhoods are also the most walkable and that its residents get more exercise that way.”
The team also suggests that pressure to maintain a tip-top physique in trendy Manhattan could be significantly greater in areas surrounded by some of the more chic neighborhoods.
“It made sense to study neighborhood noise because the neighborhood is where people spend most of their time; the city is a bustling, congested environment; and the health of people being studied is already at risk from the stresses of poverty,” says Duncan.
Dr. Kosuke Tamura, a lead investigator in the study and postdoctoral fellow at the medical center, says the research team plans to continue looking into the effect of neighborhood noise through longer studies that account for population density.
The study was published online this month in the Journal of Community Health.