Air Pollution Exposure May Increase Your Risk of Obesity

First Posted: Feb 22, 2016 06:58 AM EST

Exposure to air pollution may up your risk of obesity. Scientists have found that lab rats who breathed Beijing's highly polluted air gained weight and experienced cardio-respiratory and metabolic dysfunctions.

In this latest study, researchers decided to take a closer look at the effects of air pollution on animals. They placed pregnant rats and their offspring in two chambers; one was exposed to outdoor Beijing air and the other contained an air filter that removed most of the air pollution particles.

After only 19 days, the lungs and livers of pregnant rates exposed to the polluted air were heavier and showed increased tissue inflammation. The rats had 50 percent higher LDL cholesterol, 46 percent higher triglycerides, and 97 percent higher total cholesterol. Their insulin resistant level, which is a precursor of Type 2 diabetes, was higher than rats exposed to cleaner air.

With that said, the researchers found that the negative effects of air pollution were less pronounced after three weeks than they were at eight weeks. This suggests that long-term exposure is what is really the danger; short-term exposure seems to not be nearly as serious.

"Since chronic inflammation is recognized as a factor contributing to obesity and since metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity are closely related, our findings provide clear evidence that chronic exposure to air pollution increases the risk for developing obesity," said Junfeng Zhang, one of the researchers, in a news release. "If translated and verified in humans, these findings will support the urgent need to reduce air pollution, given the growing burden of obesity in today's highly polluted world."

The findings are published in the FASEB Journal.

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