Air Pollution and Weight Gain, Insulin Resistance and Metabolic Syndrome: Recent Findings

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group

Sarah HowardTwo studies published this month provided strong support for the idea that air pollution may cause weight gain, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.

In the first study, pregnant rats exposed to Beijing’s air gained significantly more weight during pregnancy than those breathing filtered air. Their offspring (exposed pre- and postnatally) were also significantly heavier at 8 weeks of age.

In the second study, Mexican Americans living in Southern California exposed to ambient air pollutants had lower glucose tolerance, higher insulin resistance, and adverse blood lipid concentrations.  According to the authors, “the magnitudes of effect from a 1-[standard deviation] difference of [fine particulate matter] on metabolic outcomes were similar compared with the impact of a 1-unit change in percent body fat or [body mass index] BMI on the same metabolic outcomes.”

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Top 10: 4th Quarter 2015

This is the last of CHE’s public quarterly Top 10 lists. We have selected studies and issues that we feel are significant in the field of environmental health, either because of their impact, their implications or their insight. Topics are listed in no particular order. Comments are welcome, as is always true with our blog posts. Corrected in an update 1/6/2016.

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Shangri-la Goes Up in Smoke (mostly PM2.5s)

written by Elise Miller, EdM
Director

According to the Yale Environmental Performance Score in 2014, Nepal ranked 177 out of 178 countries in terms of poor air quality—stunningly, worse than China (ranked 176th). This would seem an abstract observation if it weren’t for the fact that my family and I will be in Kathmandu in about 10 days. My husband and I adopted our son (now 10 years old) from Nepal, and we are returning to his birth country for the first time since he was a baby. We’ll see his early caretakers and help with rebuilding a school and a milk shed in a village devastated by last spring’s earthquakes.

Not that long ago Nepal was seen to Westerners as a kind of Shangri-la, an earthly paradise. The term “Shangri-la” was coined in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon as a place where people were almost immortal, aging slowly and living years beyond the normal lifespan. Currently, almost the opposite seems true. Many look far older than their years given the pollution and poverty that permeate their lives. As we’ve been preparing to go, we have been repeatedly told to bring filter masks and spend as little time in Kathmandu as possible because of the terrible air quality. If it gets really bad, we’re of course the fortunate ones: Unlike the vast majority of residents, we can also simply leave.

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On World Environmental Health Day: The Call to Protect Children’s Environment and Health

On World Environmental Health Day: The Call to Protect Children’s Environment and Health

To commemorate World Environmental Health Day this year and its focus on children’s environment and health, CHE is publishing a series of short essays from partners who are leaders in children’s environmental health.

A very young Frederica Perera

Dr. Perera’s son

written by Frederica Perera, DrPH
CHE Partner

The protection of children, and especially poor children, from air pollution and climate change resulting from the massive burning of fossil fuel is an urgent moral imperative. The large and mounting health and economic costs of pollution and climate change necessitate bold policy change.

The entire global population is affected; however, the first thousand days of life represent the greatest window of susceptibility both to toxic exposures and stressors from climate change. The developing fetus and young child undergo very rapid development during which time they lack the innate defense mechanisms operating in older children and adults. Thus, they tend to be the most affected both by toxic air pollutants and climate change. The impacts of exposure to air pollution include adverse birth outcomes, cognitive and behavioral disorders, asthma and other respiratory problems in children, while climate change increases the likelihood of heat waves, floods, drought, malnutrition, infectious disease, and social and political instability. These early impacts can translate to lifelong consequences for the young.

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Diseases, Vectors, Specific Chemicals or Life Phases: What’s Your Pleasure?

written by Elise Miller, EdM
Director

When many of us think of air pollution, images often come to mind of smoke stacks and diesel trucks spewing dirty fumes or thick brown smog enveloping cities. We think of people coughing or wearing masks on their faces to breathe, kids being rushed to emergency rooms for asthma attacks. These respiratory and lung conditions are of course part of our global reality today—and sadly so.

But I was truly struck by the plethora of new studies published during the last quarter implicating air pollution in a litany of other health outcomes. These conditions, not often associated with exposures to air particulates and other toxic airborne matter, include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, various forms of cancer, mental health, brain function, and birth defects. Nancy Hepp, CHE’s Research and Communications Specialist, compiled a long list of relevant studies (below) that appeared in journals and other media outlets from April through June 2015 highlighting these concerns.

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Your Health the Week of June 29th

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are at the height of summer, at the biggest summer holiday weekend in the US. Several news articles and studies published this week looked at summertime concerns: heat, skin cancer, outdoor recreation, and air quality. Summertime is a great season for recreation and outdoor play, and a few precautions will help preserve the fun.

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Your Health the Week of June 22nd

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Artificial Light and Sleep

Two articles this week address one of the most pervasive public health issues in developed countries: sleep deprivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 labeled insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, citing its connection to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Insufficient sleep is also linked to increased risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity and cancer as well as increased mortality.

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An Environmental Perspective of the American Diabetes Association’s 75th Scientific Sessions

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group

Sarah HowardOver 18,000 people from around the globe gathered in Boston June 5-9, 2015, for the American Diabetes Association’s premier annual scientific conference. Thanks to CHE, I was able to attend, and here summarize information I found on the development of diabetes—including environmental factors (especially chemicals), developmental origins, and the natural history of the disease.

Environmental chemicals

sign from the ADA meetingWhile there were not any sessions on environmental chemicals per se, I did find ten posters on this topic (see below for links to abstracts and online e-posters). The one that struck me most was by Su Hyun Park, who found an association between levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and beta cell dysfunction in 7-9 year old Korean children. Exposure to POPs, as well as to other chemicals, have been associated with beta cell dysfunction in other studies before, but there are few studies in humans, even fewer in children, and few at exposure levels found in the general population. (I told her I thought that hers was the most important poster of all 2373 of them and she laughed, but I stand by my opinion).

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Air Pollution Exposure during Pregnancy and the Risk of Type 1 Diabetes in the Offspring

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group

Sarah HowardAn important new study was just published, the first study to look at whether or not air pollution exposure during pregnancy is associated with the later risk of type 1 diabetes in the offspring. The study found that both ozone and nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels at the mothers’ places of residence during pregnancy were associated with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes in their children.

Note that this study was conducted in southern Sweden, an area of relatively low pollution levels. It also shows that environmental exposures in the womb may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes later in life.

This study follows a few others that have found that children’s exposure to air pollution is associated with an increased risk or acceleration of type 1 diabetes. For example, a study from Los Angeles found that birth-to-diagnosis exposure levels of ozone and sulfate air pollutants were associated with type 1 in children; a study from Chile found that fine particulate matter levels were associated with type 1 in children; and a German study found that exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides accelerated type 1 diabetes in very young children.

Air pollutants are also linked to type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, insulin resistance, higher blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, more complications from diabetes, and even higher mortality from diabetes.

For sources and more information on this topic, please see http://www.diabetesandenvironment.org/home/contam/air.

Top 10 Selections: 4th quarter 2014

We present CHE’s picks of the most important environmental health stories from the last quarter of 2014.

  1. Air pollution and autism
    A growing body of evidence implicates air toxics as potential contributors to autism spectrum disorders, with four studies published in rapid succession this quarter:

    1. Environmental chemical exposures and autism spectrum disorders: a review of the epidemiological evidence.
    2. University of Pittsburgh study correlates autism with air pollution: Preliminary results from the study show that children with autism spectrum disorders were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers’ pregnancies and their first two years of life compared with children without the condition. The study: The association of national air toxics assessment exposures and the risk of childhood autism spectrum disorder: a case control study.
    3. Air pollution exposure in pregnancy linked to autism in study: Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child. The study: Autism spectrum disorder and particulate matter air pollution before, during, and after pregnancy: a nested case–control analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort.
    4. Fourth study finds traffic pollution may cause autism: The more traffic pollution a pregnant woman is exposed to — especially during her third trimester — the greater chance her child will develop autism. The study: In utero exposure to toxic air pollutants and risk of childhood autism.
  2. Phthalates’ effects on health
    A proposed rule by the Consumer Product Safety Commission was mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and is now open for public comment: Prohibition of children’s toys and child care articles containing specified phthalates. Research continues to bring fuller understanding of the potential for harm from several phthalates:

    1. Prenatal exposure to household chemical linked to reduced IQ, study says: Children who were exposed in utero to high levels of phthalates went on to have lower IQ levels than their peers who were exposed to lower levels, a new study from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found. The study: Persistent associations between maternal prenatal exposure to phthalates on child IQ at age 7 years.
    2. A birth cohort study to investigate the association between prenatal phthalate and bisphenol A exposures and fetal markers of metabolic dysfunction: Associations between maternal exposure to chemicals and markers of metabolic function appear potentially to be sex specific.
    3. Plastics chemical linked to changes in boys’ genitals: Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today. The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract. The study: Prenatal phthalate exposures and anogenital distance in Swedish boys.
    4. How household plastics could ruin your sex life: Phthalates are being linked to, among other things, a decrease in libido in women. The study: Environmental exposure to di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate is associated with low interest in sexual activity in premenopausal women.
  3. Sugar and other sweeteners
    The impact of sugar and other sweeteners on health has been getting more attention lately. In addition to the launch of SugarScience, a new website touted as an authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health, the nation’s first soda tax passed in Berkeley, California. Proponents of the tax say it will curb the consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened teas which are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, research is uncovering health effects of sugar and other sweeteners that go beyond obesity and diabetes:

    1. This is your teenager’s brain on soda: Researchers at the University of Southern California recently published a study showing a connection between sugar consumption and memory problems. The study: Effects of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup consumption on spatial memory function and hippocampal neuroinflammation in adolescent rats.
    2. Intake of energy-dense foods, fast foods, sugary drinks, and breast cancer risk in African American and European American women.
    3. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
  4. Climate change
    The biggest climate story this quarter was that the US and China announced important new actions to reduce carbon pollution. The Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also reiterated that the situation requires immediate and substantial action or the Earth will face “further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” While the connection to human health is not always mentioned in reports on climate change, the health impacts are substantial. For example, in Chemically mediated behavior of recruiting corals and fishes: a tipping point that may limit reef recovery, there’s an understated repercussion of the loss of reefs: devastating impacts on sources of food, and especially protein, for much of the world’s human population. Other stories highlighting other aspects of climate change include these:

    1. From bar fights to wars, climate change will make us more violent: The hotter it gets, the more likely we are to kill each other. Murder rates go up in heat waves; in some countries, civil war is also more likely. In training exercises in hot weather, police are more likely to pull out a gun and fire. The paper: Climate and conflict.
    2. Climate change affects national security: After close examination of the science, the Military Advisory Board, a group of 16 retired flag-level officers, conclude that, “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced.”
  5. NY health and environmental chiefs: no to fracking
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has moved to prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique. This is the first US state to take such a stand. The report from the New York State Department of Health: A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development and another recent report: Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Sites.
  6. BPA and its replacements
    While more research mounts on health concerns from exposure to BPA, the Food and Drug Administration maintains that “the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging”, as reported in Bisphenol A is safe for approved uses in food containers, packaging, FDA says. In a conflicting decision, a California court upheld the state scientists’ finding that BPA is known to cause reproductive health problems: Court upholds BPA health warning. Recent research on BPA and replacements include these studies:

    1. Kids exposed to BPA before birth at risk of wheeze: study: Young kids who were exposed to Bisphenol A before birth are more likely than others to have a wheeze before age five, according to a new study that found no connection to BPA exposure after birth.The study: Bisphenol A exposure and the development of wheeze and lung function in children through age 5 years.
    2. Prenatal bisphenol A exposure and maternally reported behavior in boys and girls: These results suggest that prenatal exposure to BPA may be related to increased behavior problems in school age boys, but not girls.
    3. The leaching of BPA into skin from cash receipts is enhanced by using sanitizers: Touching cash register receipts while using sanitizers can dramatically increase your body’s absorption of BPA, researchers report. The study: Holding thermal receipt paper and eating food after using hand sanitizer results in high serum bioactive and urine total levels of bisphenol A (BPA).
    4. BPA exposure by infants may increase later risk of food intolerance: This research involving rats suggests that early life exposure at a dose significantly below the current human safety limit set by the FDA affects developing immune systems, predisposing offspring to food intolerance in adulthood. The study: Food intolerance at adulthood after perinatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A.
    5. That takeout coffee cup may be messing with your hormones: A new study suggests that whole classes of BPA-free plastics — including the kind in styrofoam — release estrogenic chemicals. The study: Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products.
  7. New study charts the fate of chemicals affecting health and the environment
    In a new study, Rolf Halden, PhD, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, examines the trajectory of chemicals appearing as emergent threats to human or environmental health. His research offers a highly instructive analysis of how long it takes chemicals of concern to become recognized and acted on — and why. The review: Epistemology of contaminants of emerging concern and literature meta-analysis.
  8. 16 major companies and agencies say no to chemical flame retardants
    The Center for Environmental Health, which helped encourage a rewrite of California’s regulations regarding safety standards in furniture manufacturing, announced in mid December that 16 major furniture manufacturers have now “sworn off” chemical flame retardants. This is a prime example of how environmental health science can be effectively translated into regulations that better protect health. The CEH press release including the list: Major producers eliminating flame retardant chemicals as major buyers are demanding flame retardant-free furniture.
  9. National Institutes of Health ends longitudinal children’s study
    The US National Institutes of Health has cancelled its plan for an ambitious, multi-decade study of environmental influences on children’s health known as the National Children’s Study, agency director Francis Collins announced on December 12th. The study was originally approved by a bipartisan Congress in 2000 but was fraught with scientific and political challenges over the last 14 years. See also an analysis: How the US government botched its multibillion-dollar plan to beat childhood disease.
  10. Theo Colborn: Honoring the work of an environmental health giant
    Theo Colborn, PhD, passed away on December 14th at age 87, leaving an extraordinary legacy of careful and determined environmental health research and advocacy. She was particularly recognized for her seminal work on endocrine disrupting chemicals and fracking.

    1. A brief biography by Elizabeth Grossman.
    2. Theo’s CV.
    3. Comments and stories from those who knew Theo.
    4. Remembering the genius who got BPA out of your water bottles, and so much more, one of many media reports on Theo’s death.