Air Pollution May Be a Diabetes Risk Factor
What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
Air pollution has long been see as a hindrance to health, and it contributes to breathing problems and heart disease. In 2004, the American Heart Association noted that short-term exposure to air pollution increases hospital admissions and heart disease deaths. People with diabetes are particularly sensitive to pollution-triggered heart disease events. However, the possible links between diabetes and environmental pollution are not well understood. Fine particles in the air (sometimes called soot) can come from a variety of sources such as fires, car exhaust, and dust storms. Such pollution may be a little-known risk factor for diabetes. The small size of fine pollution particles allows them to invade the breathing system and get into the heart and blood vessels. Exposure to such pollution increases inflammation (the body’s response to injury, irritation, or infection) and may be linked to a higher risk of diabetes. More research is needed to learn more about the health risks of air pollution.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
The researchers wanted to find out whether areas of the United States that have higher air pollution levels also have higher rates of diabetes.
Who was studied?
The researchers looked at information about air pollution levels from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and diabetes rates from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the years 2004 and 2005.
How was the study done?
The researchers compared the levels of air pollution and the rates of diabetes in various counties across the country. They also got information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the CDC about many other factors such as the obesity rates, population size, ethnic make-up, income levels, education levels, and health insurance in each of the counties they studied. They looked for links between air pollution levels and diabetes rates, taking into account these other factors.
What did the researchers find?
Diabetes rates were higher in counties with worse air pollution, even after taking many other factors into consideration. Even for counties that had air pollution levels within the EPA’s acceptable limits, those with the highest levels had diabetes rates more than 20 percent higher than those with the lowest levels of air pollution.
What were the limitations of the study?
The study design allowed researchers to find a link between air pollution and diabetes but not to determine whether air pollution is an actual cause of the disease. Also, the researchers had to assume that information they had on the characteristics of study groups in specific locations was representative of the entire population in those areas. In addition, the researchers could not take into account possibilities such as people with diabetes choosing to live in more polluted areas that happened to have good diabetes care medical centers. Finally, because the researchers only looked at two years of data, they could not draw any conclusions about the possible effects of long-term exposure to air pollution or of earlier exposure to air pollution years later. Such conclusions will only be possible when data from more years are available.
What are the implications of the study?
Air pollution involving fine particles of soot may increase the rates of diabetes in the U.S. population. This study adds to the growing evidence that air pollution is a risk factor for diabetes.
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