The Future of Diabetes & Climate Change

When you think of climate change, your first thoughts typically revolve around rising global temperatures and melting ice caps. Usually, your mind doesn’t wander to diabetes or any other disease. But soon, it might.

Previously on the Peer Health blog, we’ve discussed the effects of climate change on Lyme Disease. And, I’m not proud to announce that it may not stop there. New research suggests that a warming planet may lead to more cases of type 2 diabetes.

More specifically, for every 1-degree celsius rise in environmental temperature, researchers estimate that there will be an increase of more than 100,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes in the United States alone.

How could this be?

Well, it has to do with the type of fat that your body generates in hot and cold weather. In colder weather, a so-called brown fat develops, which is a calorie-burning fat. Brown fat leads to an improvement in the body’s sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that converts sugar from foods energy. However, in warmer weather, the opposite occurs. Instead, a white fat develops.

For the study, researchers used information from adults in 50 U.S. states, along with Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The data spanned from 1996 to 2009.

Although the researchers didn’t have information on diabetes diagnosis’ globally, they did see signs that people were more insulin-resistant in warmer areas.

However, it’s important to note that this study doesn’t prove cause-and-effect. Brown fat is likely just one factor in the development of type 2 diabetes, and the disease does not come down to just this one factor.

So while this is an interesting development, there’s no need to pack up and move to colder climates right away. But, it does give you more reasons to engage in a healthy lifestyle and avoid behaviors that may lead to type 2 diabetes or global warming.

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