Air Pollution: a New Harmful Sugar For the Population

Posted by on June 29, 2017

By Irma Cruz*

We live in a world where long-term consequences are ignored because they lack “immediate attention.” Millennials are known for their need of instant gratification, an attribute that is consistent with a short-term outlook. We tend to focus on occurrences that impact us here and now, that impact us personally, and that impact us in a clear way. Therefore, air pollution and the greater impact it has on certain communities is an issue that is easily overlooked.

Air pollution problems are nothing new, but the newly discovered impact it has on our health is an issue that needs to be addressed. According to NBC News: “

This connection between air pollution and Type 2 diabetes affects different communities and individuals in varying ways. According to NBC News, Latino children who struggle with obesity and overweight are more likely to suffer from the consequences of contaminated air.[2] In the aforementioned study conducted by the University of Southern California “researchers tracked air quality in Los Angeles along with the health of 314 resident Latino children ages 8–15 with overweight and obesity [problems] for an average of 3.5 years” [3] This study found that “by the time the children turned 18, the insulin-producing beta cells of their pancreases were 13% less efficient than normal, with the participants having nearly 27% higher blood insulin levels after a 12-hour fast and 36% more insulin than normal during a 2 hour glucose test.”[4] As shown, air pollution contributes to a decrease in insulin, which in turn raises their blood glucose levels and eventually leads to Type 2 diabetes. The article goes on to explain that the findings can only be generalized for mostly obese lower- income Latinos.[5] The last qualifying sentence of the NBC News Article illustrates that this correlation between air pollution and Type 2 Diabetes impacts vulnerable communities, such as children in low-income Latino communities, to a greater degree.

While the impact of air pollution is intensified by the other problems that face the Latino community, this issue is not solely limited to Latinos. Rather, the correlation between air pollution and type 2 diabetes transcends racial, economic, and social lines, attacking our country as a whole. According to a Time Magazine article, researchers from Duke University discovered that exposure to air pollution increases the chance of rats developing diabetes and obesity.[6] This study exposed lab rats to either Beijing air or clean air for 19 days and at the end of the testing time, the rats that were exposed to the filthy air had “had higher bad cholesterol levels (50%), triglycerides (46%) and total cholesterol (97%), factors that can affect the risk of developing obesity and diabetes.”[7] Although this particular research did not show the manifestation in humans too, a different German study did. The study found similar results in humans when conducted in Augsburg, Germany.[8] The more air pollution the 2,944 people were exposed to, the higher the rate of insulin resistant, a marker of Type 2 diabetes.[9]

For almost three decades, the United States has been formulating methods to combat this pollution problem.[10] In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention (P2) Act which is defined as “reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of nontoxic or less toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques and reusing materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.”[11] P2’s role in eliminating these harmful air pollutants (which are now tied to type two diabetes) is best explained through the national policy that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implements. This national policy explains that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible.[12] The national policy also establishes that if the pollution cannot be prevented, it should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible and when it cannot be recycled either, it should be treated in an environmentally safe way.[13] Consequently, according to the national policy, disposal or other release into the environment only when it is the last resort and should still be conducted in an environmentally safe manner.[14] As evident through the P2 and this national policy, our government has been doing its part in solving the problem.

As the evidence shows there is a strong correlation between air pollution and Type 2 Diabetes. Furthermore, there are different governmental implementations in place striving to put an end to the strength of this air pollution problem. And while it is true that some communities are more greatly affected by this matter than others[15], it is a problem that should be addressed by the country as a whole, and by every generation alike: from Millennials to Baby Boomers. It is a problem that we all contribute to and are responsible for. The fact that traffic-related air pollution is the most studied type of air pollution[16] demonstrate the prevalence of this specific type of pollutant. And it goes without saying that traffic-related air pollution (for example from cars) is something within our control.

Each individual effort in the aggregate makes the difference that governmental implementations alone will not have. Air pollution does not only affect us in undetectable ways and it definitely does not affect us all equally. It is time to make simple changes in our lives that will have a great impact in not only our individual lives but the lives of others. Maybe next time you want to drive to the corner store, you might consider walking. Or maybe instead of driving to school, you consider taking your bicycle. According to the California Environmental Protection Agency there are simple steps you can take everyday on the road, at home, and at work to help improve air quality.


*Irma Cruz is a Junior Editor on MJEAL. She can be reached at irmacruz@umich.edu.

[1] Catalina Gonella, Study: Air Pollution Is Linked to Diabetes in Overweight Latino Children, NBC News (Feb. 8, 2017), http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/study-air-pollution-linked-diabetes-overweight-latino-children-n718011.

[2] Diane Fennell, Air Pollution, Diabetes Linked in Children in New Study, Diabetes Self-Management: Blog (Feb. 17, 2017), https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/air-pollution-diabetes-linked-children-new-study/

[3]  Gonella, supra note 1.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Sarah Begley, Study: Air Pollution Heightens Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, Time Science (Feb. 22, 2016), http://time.com/4233241/air-pollution-obesity-diabetes/

[7]  Id.

[8] Nicholas Bakalar, Air Pollution is Linked t a Diabetes Marker, N.Y. Times (Sep. 21, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/well/live/air-pollution-is-linked-to-a-diabetes-marker.html?_r=0.

[9] Id.

[10] Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 § 13101, 42 U.S.C. § 6601-6602 (2002).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Fennell, supra note 3.

[16] Air Pollution, Diabetes and the Environment, http://www.diabetesandenvironment.org/home/contam/air.

[17] Simple Solutions to Help Reduce Air Pollution 1-2Cal EPA (Sept. 19, 2011), https://www.arb.ca.gov/html/brochure/simple_solutions.pdf.

[18] Id.

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