Air pollution may increase risk for diabetes, hypertension in African American women

Exposure to air pollutants may increase the risk of diabetes and possibly hypertension in African American women, according to new research published in the journal Circulation.

Researchers from Boston University found that African American women in the study exposed to increased levels of fine particulate matter were 1.63 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than other women. Those exposed to nitrogen oxides were 1.25 times more likely to develop diabetes.

When it comes to hypertension, participants were 1.48 times more likely to develop the condition if exposed to fine particulate matter and 1.14 times more likely when exposed to nitrogen oxides.

Fine particulate matter is commonly found in smoke and haze, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These particles can form when gases from power plants, industries and automobiles react in the air. Forest fires can also emit fine particulate matter directly.

Nitrogen oxides are highly reactive gases that include nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide forms quickly from emissions from automobiles, industrial plants, and off-road equipment. It contributes to ground level ozone and fine particle pollution. Nitrogen dioxide is also linked with many adverse effects on the respiratory system, according to the EPA.

First study of its kind
The study may shed light on the causes of racial disparities in diabetes and hypertension incidence. It’s the first large-scale investigation of the effect of air pollution on incidence of diabetes, and the first study of air pollution effects specifically in African American women.

According to Sloan Epidemiology Center at Boston University, black women in the US have a much higher incidence of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure than their white counterparts. They are also more likely to live in neighborhoods where air pollution is higher.

The study focused on a cohort of African American women living in Los Angeles over a ten-year period. Pollutant levels were estimated for each participant’s home based on land use regression models and monitoring station measurements.

Sources: Circulation, US Environmental Protection Agency, Sloane Epidemiology Center

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