Air pollution is triggering diabetes in 3.2 million people each year

New study quantifies the link between smoggy air and diabetes

pollution in Lahore, Pakistan

HAZY DAYS  Long-term exposure to air pollution, seen here blanketing the Pakistani city of Lahore in June 2018, contributes to chronic health problems. New research suggests it triggers millions of new diabetes cases each year.


Air pollution caused 3.2 million new cases of diabetes worldwide in 2016, according to a new estimate.

Fine particulate matter, belched out by cars and factories and generated through chemical reactions in the atmosphere, hang around as haze and make air hard to breathe. Air pollution has been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes (SN: 9/30/17, p. 18), but this study is one of the first attempts to quantify the connection for diabetes. Researchers tracked 1.7 million U.S. veterans for almost a decade to assess their risk of developing diabetes. They also used data from global studies on diabetes risk, as well as air quality data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, to create equations that analyzed the connection between air pollution exposure and diabetes globally.

The new estimate, reported in July in The Lancet Planetary Health, holds air pollution responsible for about 14 percent of new cases of diabetes worldwide. Factors such as genetics, weight, activity level and diet also influence the risk of the disease, which is on the rise globally. (The World Health Organization estimates that 422 million people now live with type 2 diabetes — up from 108 million in 1980.)

The burden isn’t the same around the globe: Unsurprisingly, countries with high pollution levels, such as Pakistan, India and China, also have especially high rates of air pollution-linked diabetes. The United States, which now has comparatively clean air, is also high on the list.

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