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Scientists investigate link between air pollution and type 2 diabetes

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An interdisciplinary team of scientists from EarthSense Systems, the University of Leicester and other institutions has played a pivotal role in research investigating a possible link between air pollution and the rise in type 2 diabetes. Exposure to traffic related air pollutants is known to cause insulin resistance, a hallmark of the disease, and observational evidence has been applied to better understand a potential link.

The new research, published in the journal Environment International, examined data from 10,443 participants from diabetes screening studies in Leicestershire, UK. The exposure to air pollution, the number of cases of type 2 diabetes and the impact of demographic and lifestyle factors were all considered. The authors concluded that demographic factors largely explained the association between air pollution and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University, who led the research, said, “High air pollution and low physical activity are two of the leading causes of disease and premature death in middle and high-income countries. The UN has estimated that two thirds of world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, and our cities must become better, healthier places in which to live.”

Professor Roland Leigh, Technical Director of EarthSense, Director of Enterprise at the University of Leicester’s Institute for Space and Earth Observation and co-author of the study, added, “We know that air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health risk, affecting 92% of the population and associated with more than three million deaths per year, and evidence suggested it may contribute to the rise in type 2 diabetes.

“While original results suggested association between air pollution and associated particulates and type 2 diabetes, when the effects of lifestyle and demographic factors were considered, and given the limited size of the sample, evidence for direct association with air pollution was inconclusive,” he continued. “We will, however, continue to apply cutting-edge air quality research to unpick potentially connected long-term exposure factors. As innovators in air quality monitoring, the University of Leicester and EarthSense have fundamental contributions to make to the understanding of the complex issues of pollution exposure and health.”

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