Air Pollution Linked to 3.2 Million Diabetes Cases Worldwide in 2016


Air pollution levels far below those considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are raising diabetes risk worldwide, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health.

The study, conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, showed that air pollution contributed to about 14 percent of new diabetes cases – 3.2 million – globally, and to about 150,000 new cases of diabetes in the United States in 2016. Air pollution particulates are made up of microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, and soot mixed with liquid droplets. The smallest particulates regulated by the EPA are 2.5 micrometers, which are about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Particles that are smaller than 10 micrometers can enter the lungs and also pass into the bloodstream, travel to various organs, and produce an inflammatory reaction that can lead to chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.

This study involved 1.7 million U.S. veterans with no history of diabetes who were followed for an average of more than eight years. After controlling for known causes of diabetes, researchers measured study participants’ exposure to air pollution levels documented by the EPA and NASA. In those exposed to air pollution between 5 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air – far less than the 12 micrograms deemed safe by the EPA – about 21 percent developed diabetes. Exposure to levels between 11.9 and 13.6 micrograms raised diabetes risk to about 24 percent, which amounts to an additional 5,000 to 6,000 cases of diabetes per 100,000 people each year.

Sourced from: Lancet Planetary Health