Air Pollution: A Potential Contributor To Diabetes

Rachel Kogan ’19

Figure 1. Increased Atmospheric Particulate Matter (PM2.5) in air pollution may significantly contribute to diabetes.

Despite efforts to diminish industrial contamination, air pollution remains a prominent issue throughout most of the world. This form of pollution has long been associated with the rise of respiratory tract illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer. However, a recent study, conducted by a team of researchers lead by Al-Aly Ziyad of the Department of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, states that air pollution can significantly increase ones’ chances of developing diabetes.

The researchers analyzed the concentration of atmospheric particulate matter (PM2.5) in 1.7 million US veterans with no history of diabetes. After 8.5 years, the veterans’ PM2.5 levels were re-examined along with any changes in their medical history. The results indicated that PM2.5 increased an average of 10 microgram/m3 in the observed population. This increase was not uniform throughout the population as those living in lower income areas consistently had higher PM2.5 levels than those from high-income regions. The greater percentage of PM2.5 significantly correlated with increased risk of diabetes (pre-diabetes) with the correlation index (CI) of 95%. Although not as strong, a correlation between increased PM2.5 and incidents of diabetes itself was found as well.

Although it is often difficult to prevent air pollution, having studies that display the phenomenon’s impact may serve as a key bargaining chip in developing government policies. Additionally, this study sheds light on potential environmental factors that contribute to the increased incidence in diabetes worldwide.



  1. A. Ziyad, et. al., The 2016 global and national burden of diabetes mellitus attributable to PM2·5 air pollution. The Lancet Planetary Health 2, 301-312 (2018). doi:  
  2. Image retrieved from:

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