Exposure to aircraft noise around schools located near major airports may adversely affect children’s development of mental skills, especially reading comprehension, findings from a new study suggest.
While the effects of air pollution, lead, and chemicals on childhood development have been well studied, less attention has been paid to the impact of noise, according to the report in The Lancet medical journal.To investigate, Dr. Stephen A. Stansfeld, from the University of London, and colleagues assessed the cognitive abilities of 2844 children who attended 89 primary schools located near three major airports in Europe.The degree of aircraft and road traffic noise exposure was determined with noise contour maps, modeling, and on-site measurements. Cognitive performance was assessed with standard tests.As exposure to aircraft noise increased, impairments in reading comprehension and recognition memory also rose significantly, the report indicates. This held true after factoring in the mothers’ education level, socioeconomic status, long-standing illness, and the extent of classroom insulation against noise.Unexpectedly, exposure to road traffic noise was significantly associated with improvements in episodic memory. The reason for this finding is unclear and demands further study, the investigators comment.Neither type of noise had an effect on sustained attention, self-reported health, or overall mental health, the team points out.The new findings add to growing evidence “about the negative effect of noise on learning,” Dr. Peter M. Rabinowitz, from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, notes in a related editorial.The results might have important implications for health care, he adds, citing a possible role for noise in attention-deficit disorders, sleep problems, and cardiovascular diseases.(Source: Lancet: Reuters Health: June 2005.)