Hundreds of Latino children who were studied for over a decade faced a heightened risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after exposure to nitrogen dioxide and tiny pollutants from cars and power plants, a new report finds.
A recent study from scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) tracked 314 overweight Latino children living in areas with high levels of air pollution, and found they had an increased risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes.
The study is the first to find a correlation between air pollution and diabetes risk.
The children who participated in the study came from areas that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have excess nitrogen dioxide and tiny air pollution particles that are created from automobiles and power plants. Over 12 years of testing, scientists found that chronic exposure to these conditions was linked to a breakdown of insulin-creating cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, which help maintain blood sugar levels.
Every year, the children were asked to fast before they came into the Childhood Obesity Research Center at USC, where scientists measured their glucose and insulin levels. They found that when the children turned 18 years old, they had about 36 percent more insulin than normal, meaning their bodies were becoming less responsive to insulin.
“It has been the conventional wisdom that this increase in diabetes is the result of an uptick in obesity due to sedentary lifespans and calorie-dense diets,” Frank Gilliland, senior author said in the study. “Our study shows air pollution also contributes to Type 2 diabetes risk.”
The team at USC concluded that long-term exposure to air pollution had a greater effect than gaining 5 percent body weight.
The study suggests that people who want to reduce their risk should avoid exposure to air pollution as much as possible, especially young children and infants.
“Air pollution is ubiquitous, especially in Los Angeles,” Alderete said. “It’s important to consider the factors that you can control – for example, being aware that morning and evening commute times might not be the best time to go for a run. Change up your schedule so that you’re not engaging in strenuous activity near sources of pollutants or during peak hours.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests that people can lower their chances of contracting diabetes by knowing the risk factors associated with diabetes such as an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity, a family history of diabetes, certain socioeconomic conditions and race.
According to the CDC, Hispanics are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes than whites.
The study cautions that their findings may be generalized only to overweight Latino children of a lower socioeconomic status.