Exposure to aircraft noise may affect children's reading and memory

Exposure to high levels of aircraft noise could impair the development of reading and memory in children, suggests a study published in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

Understanding the way the environment affects children's health is central to the prevention of illness. While the effects of air pollution are well known, less is understood about the way environmental noise affects child health.

In the largest study of its kind to date, Stephen Stansfeld (Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London, UK) and colleagues, assessed the effects of road traffic and aircraft noise on children's cognitive development and health. Over 2,800 children, aged 9-10 years, from 89 primary schools located near three major airports--Schiphol in the Netherlands, Barajas in Spain, and Heathrow in the UK--took part in the study. The investigators assessed aircraft and road traffic noise levels around the schools, and compared these levels to the results of cognitive tests and health questionnaires.

Pooling the data from the three countries, the researchers found exposure to aircraft noise impaired reading comprehension, even after adjustment for socioeconomic differences between high-noise and low-noise schools. Reading age in children exposed to high levels of aircraft noise was delayed by up to 2 months in the UK and by up to 1 month in the Netherlands for a 5 decibel change in noise exposure. Road traffic noise did not have an effect on reading and was unexpectedly found to improve recall memory. Increased exposure to both aircraft and road traffic noise was associated with increased stress in children and reduced quality of life. The authors conclude that schools exposed to high levels of aircraft noise are not healthy educational environments. They state that the effects of exposure to noise at home, as well as at school, and what can be done to overcome these effects, now needs to be examined.


Contact: Joe Santangelo

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