New research highlights the risks associated with air pollution, finding that exposure may increase a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and becoming obese.
In a study published in the medical journal Diabetes, researchers from the University of Southern California found that ambient air pollution could damage the pancreas of Latino children, hampering the production of insulin.
Researchers collected data on overweight Latino children, ages 8 to 15 years old, living in the Los Angeles area between 2001 and 2012. The children were followed for an average of 3.5 years. The study mainly focused on measures of excess nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. This type of pollution is generated by motor vehicles and power plants. The study used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which measured the levels of these pollutants.
The findings indicate that children living in areas with higher levels of air pollution suffered damage to the pancreas, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Researchers said ambient air pollution may also contribute to the development of obesity through the damage to the pancreas and subsequent development of type 2 diabetes.
By the time the children reached age 18, pancreatic cells that produce insulin were 13 percent less efficient than normal. This is what made the children more vulnerable to developing type 2 diabetes and later becoming obese.
Past studies has shown that air pollution can cause or worsen lung cancer, asthma and cardiovascular damage. One study linked air pollution to increased risk of heart disease form inflammation and damage to blood vessels. However, this is the first study to connect air pollution and type 2 diabetes.
The children in areas of higher air pollution had 27% increased blood insulin after having fasted for 12 hours. During a short, two-hour blood glucose test the researchers determined those children had 26%more insulin than they should have. This indicates the body is using the insulin it produces less effectively.
Researchers say that while the findings were specific to overweight Latino children, the results may be applicable to other children living in similar conditions of high pollution. A study published last year indicated more than 90 percent of the Earth’s population lives in areas with poor air quality, contributing to an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.