Researchers found that children living in areas with higher levels of air pollution, for example from exhaust fumes, are more likely to develop insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, by the age of 10.
Previous studies have shown that women in heavily polluted areas tend to have smaller babies, and low birth weight is known to raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, providing a possible explanation for the figures.
Air pollutants could also react with fats and proteins to cause cell damage or lead to higher levels of inflammation in the body, both of which could lead to insulin resistance, researchers said.
Scientists from Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich studied blood samples from 397 10-year-olds and estimated each child’s average daily exposure to pollution from exhaust fumes.
Results showed that children living in areas with higher levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide in the air were significantly more likely to develop insulin resistance.
For every additional 500m in proximity between a child’s home and the nearest main road, the chance of their developing insulin resistance increased by seven per cent, according to findings published in the Diabetologia journal.
The researchers plan to follow up with the same children in 15 years to examine whether those who moved to cleaner areas saw any change in their condition.
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