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For many of New York City’s poorer residents, their neighborhoods tend to be among some of the noisiest in the entire city. But the findings of a new study conducted by New York University Medical Center may have just provided a silver lining for New Yorkers who are fed up with the constant cacophony in the ‘hood — all that noise might actually be good for you.
An estimated 8.5 million people call New York City home, and another 50-plus million tourists visit the city annually. According to the official New York City tourism website, more people live in New York City than in 40 of the 50 states. It also has the highest population density in the country, about 27,000 people per square mile.
And with that many people sharing the same patch of concrete on a daily basis, comes a lot of stress and a lot of noise — from car horns to bar late night bar brawls outside your window.
To determine the relationship between noise levels and health, NYUMC researchers studied the Body Mass Index (BMI) and blood pressure of 102 city residents living in New York City Low-Income Housing neighborhoods. Participants lived in affordable housing, and the majority had an annual income of $25,000 or less.
For the study, participants wore a GPS device that tracked their movements as well as monitored their body weight and BMI. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.5 is considered “normal,” while anything over 30 is categorized as “obese.”
Noise levels were estimated based on complaints made to the city’s non-emergency phone system in 2014. Manhattan had the noisiest neighborhoods in the city, followed by Brooklyn. Neighborhoods in the outer-boroughs of Staten Island and the Bronx were quieter.
Researchers found that poor people living within a five-block radius with 1,000 noise complaints had a healthier BMI and lower blood pressure readings compared to “a statistical model of a 5-block radius that had no noise complaints.” Participants’ BMI readings were on average 2.72 points lower and blood pressure readings were 5.34 points lower.
In other words, people living in noisier neighborhoods were healthier than their counterparts living in quieter ‘hoods.
Neighborhoods tend to spend most of their time in their own neighborhoods. Therefore, it made sense to study neighborhood noise and health, according to senior study investigator and NYU Langone epidemiologist Dr. Dustin Duncan.
“The city is a bustling, congested environment. And the health of people being studied is already at risk from the stresses of poverty,” he added.
And while the findings are interesting, there is still factors that need to be examined further.
“Other than walkability, other social factors and peer pressure could also account for the unexpected findings,” says the study’s lead investigator Kosuke Tamura, PhD.
So will living in a noisy neighborhood make you more healthy? Well, not directly, anyway.
“To be clear, we’re not saying that neighborhood noise causes better health. It may just be that New York’s noisiest neighborhoods are also the most walkable and that its residents get more exercise that way,” Duncan says.
However, researchers felt they showed that neighborhood noise may have an indirect impact on health that is different from known risk factors like diet and lack of exercise.
Click here to read more about the study.