Air pollution may pose a far more extensive health hazard than originally thought. Diabetes and obesity appear to be likely delayed effects of exposure to high levels of fine particle matter emitted from industrial facilities and automobile tailpipes.
We are all familiar with poor air quality's immediate effect on human respiratory systems in the form of asthma attacks and chronic bronchitis. But atmospheric pollution has not normally been identified as a causative factor in diabetes and obesity, two of the nation's major health scourges -- that is until recently.
New research suggests a connection between exposure to fine particle matter in the air, human weight problems, and the eventual onset of diabetes. If these preliminary findings hold fast and become even firmer, they will add significantly to the urgency to enact stricter air pollution regulation. Keep in mind that approximately 100 million Americans live in areas that fail to meet the current fine particle standards, as of 2004.
Obesity, a condition conducive to premature death from heart disease and a host of other illnesses, has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the Federal Center for Disease Control, approximately one-third of the adult population as well as nine million kids are obese or close to it. Up until now, lack of exercise and poor nutritional habits were considered the main culprits, but air pollution is vying for inclusion.
As for Type Two diabetes, 25 million Americans have the disease and it is spreading exponentially, often in conjunction with obesity which increases the body's susceptibility to the malady.
These afflictions encumber Americans with a heavy fiscal as well as health burden which is especially painful in a flagging economy. Obesity and the problems it creates cost us an estimated $270 billion annually; diabetes, $174 billion.
Just how does air pollution lead to obesity and diabetes? Experimenting with laboratory mice, researchers at Ohio State University's College of Public Health found that exposure to fine particulate pollution caused inflammation of fat cells that increased the risk of diabetes, and to a lesser extent obesity. Young mice exposed to high levels of particulates in a period that roughly extrapolates from toddler to late adolescence in human beings subsequently developed the signature diabetic symptoms of abnormal blood sugar counts and insulin resistance. As the fat cells increased in size and number, so did the mice's abdominal fat. The experiment suggests that there are some delayed adverse health effects that put children in heavily polluted areas at even greater risk than was previously believed.
Is it an open and shut case against fine particle air pollution causing obesity and diabetes? No, but the Ohio State study and several others like it should give every member of Congress serious second thoughts about weakening existing air pollution rules and opposing more rigorous ones.
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