Link Between Air Pollution and Diabetes

air pollution diabetes

New research has uncovered a ‘significant link’ between air pollution and diabetes around the world.

The US study estimates that one in 10 cases of type 2 diabetes in the UK may be caused by air pollution. 

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes – 90% of people with the condition have type 2 diabetes. It causes the level of glucose in the blood to be too high, and is linked with being overweight or inactive.

The number of people being diagnosed with diabetes is increasing in the UK. Almost 3.7 million people have diabetes, an increase of 1.9 million in 1998. The increase in prevalence of type 2 diabetes is thought to be due to a rise in obesity.

Microscopic pieces of dust

However, a new study has looked at the link between type 2 diabetes and air pollution. They looked at 194 countries to find out whether the incidence of type 2 diabetes rose in more polluted areas.

The researchers looked at microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets in the air to evaluate outdoor air pollution. They examined the relationship between levels of pollution and risk of diabetes among 1.7 million US veterans, following them up for 8.5 years. None of the veterans had a history of diabetes.

Diabetes risk

The research involved using air monitoring systems and space-borne satellites operated by NASA. The researchers devised a model that used the data to evaluate diabetes risk across various pollution levels around the world. 

The results estimate that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new cases of diabetes globally in 2016; about 14% of new cases. When air pollution is between 5 and 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air, about 21% of people develop diabetes, according the model. When exposure increases to 11.9 to 13.6 micrograms, about 24% of people develop diabetes. 

This 3% difference represents an increase of over 5,000 new diabetes cases per 100,000 people a year.

In the UK, average air pollution levels are 12 micrograms per cubic metre of air, but are much higher in the large cities.

Insulin production

Previous studies have suggested that the link between diabetes and pollution may be down to people’s airways becoming inflamed, which reduces insulin production.

The findings of this new research could indicate that lowering pollution levels could lead to a reduction in cases of diabetes in heavily polluted countries. 


This article was written by a third party source and does not reflect the views or opinions of Ramsay Health Care unless explicitly stated.

Additional comments on the page from individual Consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Consultants or Ramsay Health Care.

Related stories:

Citrus fruits could help combat side effects of obesity
Diabetes can increase risk of death following heart failure

Share this article