New study links female obesity and air pollution

New study links female obesity and air pollution

A young woman, seen from behind, runs along a tree-lined path.

A new study links air pollution to weight gain in women. (Getty Images)

almost 42% Adults in the United States are now considered obese, but there is no simple explanation as to why. After all, many contributing factors determine a person’s weight, including genetics, muscle mass, diet, exercise routine, and environmental factors. But a new study has found a surprising contributor to weight gain, as far as women are concerned: air pollution.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes careData from 1,654 women were analyzed Study of Women’s Health Across Nations, a multi-site, long-term study designed to examine the health of women in their middle years. Data collected from the women, whose average age was 49.6, included body size and body composition. The researchers also tracked annual air pollution exposure.

Here’s what they found: The more air pollution women were exposed to, the greater their risk of obesity. Exposure to air pollution was specifically associated with higher body fat, a higher proportion of fat, and lower lean body mass in women who were in their middle years. Women exposed to air pollution increased their body fat by 4.5%, or about 2.6 pounds.

Researchers also looked at how air pollution and physical activity affect body composition and found that high levels of physical activity are a good way to offset air pollution exposure.

The study’s lead author, Jeanne Wang, a research investigator in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told Yahoo Life that she and her team wanted to “identify and study modifiable risk factors, including environmental influences. Pollutants,” for obesity. To help identify those at high risk.

Wang says it’s not surprising that air pollution may play a role in the development of obesity. “If we look at history, it is not difficult to find that the rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity has paralleled the increasing exposure to environmental pollutants,” he says. Wang noted that research has already linked air pollution — including fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone — to increased fat tissue inflammation, along with a number of other factors “strongly linked to obesity.”

It’s easy to assume that air pollution might increase a person’s chances of developing obesity because it keeps people indoors, but it’s more complicated than that, Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, an obesity medicine physician and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Yahoo Life. “Research shows that it shows that air pollution can lead to metabolic dysfunction — that is, it affects your metabolism and how your body stores cholesterol,” Stanford said. “Air pollution seems to be linked to the onset of chronic diseases, whether it’s diabetes or obesity. Why not.”

But, he adds, “when you have air pollution, of course it can disrupt regular physical activity, especially in the outdoor environment.”

Exercise can help counteract the effects of air pollution on weight, which is generally associated with the benefits of exercise, Dr. Mark Conroy, MD, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Yahoo Life. “Exercise has long been seen as a powerful link to improved health and body composition,” he says. “In individuals with high levels of inflammation, exercise can lower those levels, improve metabolism and reduce fat.”

Stanford cautions against blaming obesity solely on air pollution. “Obesity is a complex, multifactorial relapsing-remitting disease,” she says. “Everyone who has obesity can have it for different reasons. For some, air pollution may be the one thing that leads to certain diseases in people but for many, there are multiple factors that play a role.” He says this includes family history, medications and chronic stress. Listed in “It’s not important for us to single out just one thing as the cause of obesity in people,” he said.

Wang noted that the study was conducted on a specific population — middle-aged women who were exposed to a specific range of air pollution (median annual PM2.5 concentrations ranged from 12.3 µg/m3 to 15.9 µg/m3). Consequently, it is not possible to conclude that the results apply to everyone. “However, our results call for further studies to confirm the link between air pollution and obesity, particularly in highly exposed populations,” he says. “This will help establish whether air pollution is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic and lay the foundation for future studies for intervention strategies.”

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