Children living in areas with high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life, according to new German research.
Scientists from the German Research Centre for Environmental Health in Neuherberg analysed blood samples from 397 10-year-olds and using air pollution figures from 2008-09 estimated each child’s average daily exposure to traffic fumes.
After adjusting for other risk factors such as body mass index, birth weight and passive smoking, they found that levels of kids living in areas with higher levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air were much more likely to develop insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, by the age of 10.
The results, published in the journal Diabetologia, also showed the risk of insulin resistance rose by 7% for every 500 metres closer to main road a child lived.
A possible explanation for the findings, according to the researchers, is that air pollutants may react with fats and proteins to cause cell damage or lead to higher levels of inflammation in the body, both of which could result in the body becoming resistant to its own insulin.
Study author Dr Joachim Heinrich said: “Whether the air pollution-related increased risk for insulin resistance in school-age has any clinical significance is an open question so far. However, the results of this study support the notion that the development of diabetes in adults might have its origin in early life including environmental exposures.”
But Prof Jon Ayres, an expert in environmental and respiratory medicine, of the University of Birmingham, said the results should be regarded with caution as the “measurements of fasting blood insulin levels and estimations of air pollution levels were not taken at the same time”.
“A larger and methodologically more secure study needs to be done to confirm the possible link between air pollution from traffic emissions and insulin resistance in children,” he added.

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