Pollution levels could be a “catalyst” for developing type 2 diabetes, a study of Latino children in the US has found.
It is the first study to find a link between poor air quality, type 2 diabetes and young people, the researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) said.
“Exposure to heightened air pollution during childhood increases the risk for Hispanic children to become obese and, independent of that, to also develop type 2 diabetes,” said Michael Gora, co-director at USC’s Diabetes and Research Institute at the Keck School of Medicine, said.
“Poor air quality appears to be a catalyst for obesity and diabetes in children, but the conditions probably are forged via different pathways.”
The neighborhoods of the participating children had pollution in the air which was generated from cars and power plants.
As part of the research, 300 overweight or obese children aged between the ages of 8-13 were monitored for three and a half years.
At the beginning of the study, none of them had type 2 diabetes, but many were diagnosed with prediabetes as the study progressed.
The children were asked to fast at the same point each year when they then had their blood sugar levels and insulin levels measured. Upon turning 18, the participants had nearly 27 per cent higher blood insulin levels than normal following a 12-hour fast.
The children also demonstrated 36 per cent more insulin in their bodies than normal at two hours after a glucose tolerance test, indicating less responsiveness to the hormone.
Frank Gilliard, senior author and professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, said: “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. Our study shows air pollution also contributes to type 2 diabetes risk.”
The pollution link was found because once the children turned 18, the long-term exposure to poor air increased the risk of type 2 diabetes more than five per cent weight gain.
“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 ru,” said Tanya Alderete, lead author of the study.
“Change up your schedule so that you’re not engaging in strenuous activity near sources of pollutants or during peak hours.”
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Diabetes.

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