The quality of life of the children in the Rhine-Main region
The NORAH-scientists were not only interested in the reading performances, but also in the general health and quality of life of the children. The questions they asked the children and their parents concerned, for example, the sleep quality or the mental and physical wellbeing.
The results show that the quality of life of the children in the investigation area is generally very high. The children and parents with relatively high exposure to aviation noise, however, assessed the health and quality of life of the children as slightly poorer than those with low exposure. Although the difference is small, it is statistically significant (L Glossary "Significance"): with an increase of the aviation noise by ten decibels, the quality of life fell on the three to five-point assessment scales by an average of 0.1 scale points.
The quality of life from the point of view of the children
In order to find out how the children assess their physical and mental quality of life, the scientists asked them to answer various questions relating to the last week. Among other things, children were asked whether they had suffered from headaches or tummy problems in this time, whether they slept well, and whether they had been bored. To answer the questions they could choose from "never", "sometimes", or "very often". It was shown that there was a statistically significant effect of the aviation noise on the responses.
In the group of children with the lowest level of noise exposure, 67 percent stated that they never had headaches or tummy aches. In the group of children with the highest level of noise exposure only 56 percent said this. The scientists were able to statistically rule out any other differences between the groups – e.g. different socioeconomic status (L Glossary) – that might have had an influence on the children's responses.
Sleep and mental wellbeing
The results were similar when the children were asked whether they had slept well in the past week. In the group with the highest level of noise exposure, 20 percent of the children stated that they "never" slept well – compared with 15 percent of the children with only low exposure to aviation noise. The parents, however, gave a different assessment of the sleep quality of their children: their responses to the question about their children's sleep do not indicate any connection with aviation noise.
To assess their mental wellbeing, the children were asked, among other thing, whether they had been bored in the past week. The result: the more aviation noise, the more likely the children were to state that they had been bored in the last week. An increase in the aviation noise by ten decibels (L Glossary) led to a deterioration of 0.14 on a three-point scale. Only around 40 percent of the children with high noise exposure stated that they were never bored, compared with 53 percent of the children in areas with low aviation noise exposure.
More medication and speech or language disorders
A total of 1,185 parents answered the scientists' questions about the health and the wellbeing of their children. They also provided information on the disorders which their children suffer and about absence times from school. In most of these answers the scientists were unable to identify any differences that could be attributed aviation noise.
For two questions, however, there proved to be a connection between the parents' answers and the aviation noise exposure. Ten percent of the parents in areas with relatively high noise exposure state that their children are currently taking prescribed medication. In the residential areas with medium exposure it was only four percent, and in the regions with low exposure just under six percent.
In areas with relatively high noise exposure, 14 percent answered "yes" to the question: "Has a doctor ever diagnosed a language or speech disorder in your child?" In areas with low noise exposure, only 10 percent gave this answer, in the residential areas with medium exposure it was 8 percent.
These results are statistically unequivocal. It was not asked, however, what the exact nature of the disorder was. By comparison: in Germany as a whole the frequency of speech or language disorders in children ranges, depending on the diagnosis criterion, between 2 and 15 percent. The connection should thus be made the subject of further investigation. It is important to know that the children described as being diagnosed by their parents did not differ in their reading performance to the rest of the group.
How happy are the children at school in the Rhine-Main Region?
Some studies show that a high level of noise exposure at school can also influence the attitudes of the children to school and learning. This is why the NORAH Study also looked at the "school-related quality of life". For this purpose the children responded to statements such as for example "I am happy learning new things" and "I feel well at school". The result showed a statistically significant (L Glossary "Significance"), but very low influence of aviation noise on the responses. Children exposed to relatively high levels of aviation noise are slightly less positive towards learning and school. The difference amounts to just one eighth of a scale point on a four-point scale.
The parents and teachers were also asked about the school satisfaction of the children and about the atmosphere in the classroom. This did not show any significant connection with aviation noise.