The recent rise in cases of Type 2 diabetes is most often attributed to a similar rise in obesity. However, certain environmental factors may be just as responsible.
New research suggests that Mexican Americans who live or have lived near air pollution have an increased chance of developing prediabetes, and potentially Type 2 diabetes. This exposure to polluted air can ultimately lead to greater insulin resistance, and higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to a Healio report.
The University of Southern California in Los Angeles study tracked 694 young, obese Mexican American women with a family history of gestational diabetes. Participants came from areas with a higher exposure to air pollutants (examples include living near a freeway or exposure to smoke). They were then asked to fill out a lifestyle questionnaire about their diet and physical activity. Researchers then measured air pollution reports from 2002 to 2008 in the surrounding areas of the addresses provided by study subjects and correlated this with how study participants responded.
From this data, researchers found evidence to suggest that short-term exposure (up to 58 days) of air pollution was linked to both insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance. Longer term exposure showed greater consequences: 12 months or more of living in areas with poor air quality was associated with greater risk of developing insulin resistance and higher fasting blood sugar levels.
Such research, although preliminary, may lend scientific evidence to the growing environmental justice movement. Environmental justice activists argue that people of color and the economically disadvantaged often are at greater risk of exposure to pollutants that can affect quality of life. This movement has gained a new sense of urgency after the disaster in Flint, Michigan, when Flint citizens were exposed to high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water.