Prospective analysis of traffic exposure as a risk factor for incident coronary heart disease: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study

Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Nov;116(11):1463-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.11290. Epub 2008 Jul 8.


Background: For people living close to busy roads, traffic is a major source of air pollution. Few prospective data have been published on the effects of long-term exposure to traffic on the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD).

Objectives: In this article, we examined the association between long-term traffic exposure and incidence of fatal and nonfatal CHD in a population-based prospective cohort study.

Methods: We studied 13,309 middle-age men and women in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, without previous CHD at enrollment, from 1987 to 1989 in four U.S. communities. Geographic information system-mapped traffic density and distance to major roads served as measures of traffic exposure. We examined the association between traffic exposure and incident CHD using proportional hazards regression models, with adjustment for background air pollution and a wide range of individual cardiovascular risk factors.

Results: Over an average of 13 years of follow-up, 976 subjects developed CHD. Relative to those in the lowest quartile of traffic density, the adjusted hazard ratio (HR) in the highest quartile was 1.32 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.06-1.65; p-value for trend across quartiles = 0.042]. When we treated traffic density as a continuous variable, the adjusted HR per one unit increase of log-transformed density was 1.03 (95% CI, 1.01-1.05; p = 0.006). For residents living within 300 m of major roads compared with those living farther away, the adjusted HR was 1.12 (95% CI, 0.95-1.32; p = 0.189). We found little evidence of effect modification for sex, smoking status, obesity, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, hypertension, age, or education.

Conclusion: Higher long-term exposure to traffic is associated with incidence of CHD, independent of other risk factors. These prospective data support an effect of traffic-related air pollution on the development of CHD in middle-age persons.

Keywords: air pollution; coronary disease; traffic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United States
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity*


  • Vehicle Emissions