If you’ve ever visited Los Angeles, then you’ve probably been introduced to the infamous fog. Beginning in the 1950’s and 60’s Los Angeles residents have breathed some of the dirtiest air in the world. Change finally began to occur when the Clean Air Act of the 1970’s was enacted, but Los Angeles still has some of the worst air in the country. And, as it turns out, these high levels of pollution may actually raise the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.
A study at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles followed 314 overweight or obese Hispanic children in Los Angeles County. The children were between 8 and 15 years old. None had diabetes. At the end of the study, researchers determined that poor air quality appears to be a catalyst for obesity and diabetes in children.
When the children who lived in an area with high levels of pollution turned 18, their insulin-producing pancreatic cells were 13% less efficient than normal. These cells are referred to as beta cells, and insulin is a hormone that helps maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. When these beta cells stop working properly, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes rises.
However, it’s important to note that while this study did find a link between air pollution and type 2 diabetes, it does not prove cause and effect. And, none of the children in the study ever progressed into actually having type 2 diabetes.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid air pollution, no matter which city you live in. So how can parents avoid this risk and protect their children?
The lead author of the study, Tanya Alderete, suggests: “It’s important to consider the factors that you can control — for example, being aware that morning and evening commute times might not be the best time to go for a run. Change up your schedule so that you’re not engaging in strenuous activity near sources of pollutants or during peak hours.”1
In the past four decades, diabetes has quadrupled in the United States. By 2050, one-third of Americans could have the condition. This can put them at risk for complications such as blindness, kidney failure, limb amputation or early death.
For those living with type 2 diabetes, exercise is necessary. And, the same is true if you want to avoid the condition. While we can’t entirely control some lifestyle factors, such as smog, we can control how health-conscious we live our lives.
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