Can Air Pollution Contribute to Diabetes or Weight Gain?

Sarah HowardSarah Howard,
National Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group

Of course what you eat can affect your risk of diabetes and obesity, but how about what you breathe? Can air pollution influence the risk of diabetes and obesity? Surprisingly, it might.

Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in a number of studies. For example, African-American women living in Los Angeles had a higher risk of diabetes if their homes were located in areas with higher traffic-related air pollution levels, after controlling for other diabetes risk factors such as age, body mass index, exercise, and family history (Coogan et al 2012). Adults in Denmark had an increased risk of diabetes when exposed to higher levels of the traffic-related air pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—expecially those who had a healthy lifestyle, were physically active, and did not smoke—factors that should be protective against type 2 diabetes (Andersen et al 2012). Elderly women in Germany had a higher risk of diabetes when living in areas of higher traffic-related air pollution, after adjusting for diabetes risk factors as well as several non-traffic-related sources of air pollution (Kramer et al 2010).

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A View from the North

In recognition of CHE’s 10th anniversary, colleagues who have been particularly instrumental to shaping CHE this past decade will be invited to write an introduction. This month’s introduction is by Pamela Miller, MS, Executive Director and Founder, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Coordinator, CHE Alaska Regional Working Group.

As I reflect on the tenth anniversary of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, I am grateful—grateful for the vision of CHE, the connections with remarkable scientists and health advocates, and the incredible resources and knowledge base that CHE provides. I love that civility is a key underlying principle of every CHE conversation. I remember when I first became a CHE partner in 2002, a few of us at Alaska Community Action on Toxics would huddle together on cold, dark wintry mornings here in Alaska listening to partnership calls with intense interest. Sometimes we would invite the entire staff over to our home and share tea while we all participated in the calls. The calls sparked new ideas about how to engage in our work more effectively, possibilities for new community-based research, enlightened us about new science that informed our efforts to achieve transformative and protective policies. The CHE Vallombrosa Consensus Statement on Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise provided the scientific basis for our environmental reproductive health and justice program, affirming much of what is witnessed by health workers and Alaska Native elders in our communities concerning involuntary infertility, miscarriages, and other reproductive health problems.

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