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Study in India Reveals Link Between Air Pollution and Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Air pollution in India has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, as revealed in a groundbreaking study published in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care journal. The study, the first of its kind in India, was conducted in Delhi and Chennai, and it found that exposure to elevated levels of fine pollution particles (PM2.5) in the air, which are 30 times thinner than a strand of hair, is associated with higher blood sugar levels and an elevated incidence of type 2 diabetes. While the health impacts of fine particulate matter are known for cardiovascular and cardiometabolic diseases, this study sought to provide evidence from regions with high air pollution levels like India, where noncommunicable diseases are a significant burden.

The research team, which included scientists from the Centre for Chronic Disease Control in New Delhi, followed a group of over 12,000 men and women from 2010 to 2017, regularly measuring their blood sugar levels. They also utilized satellite data and air pollution exposure models to assess air quality in the participants’ localities during that period. The results demonstrated that exposure to PM2.5 for just one month led to increased blood sugar levels, and prolonged exposure for a year or more elevated the risk of diabetes. Additionally, for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) increase in the annual average PM2.5 levels in Delhi and Chennai, the risk of diabetes rose by 22 percent.

The study addressed a significant research gap in South Asia, where diabetes is a major health concern, by providing robust exposure assessment and longitudinal data in this population. It underscores the need for tailored, population-specific policies to combat the high diabetes prevalence by reducing ambient air pollution. The research team, which also included scientists from the Public Health Foundation of India, Harvard University, Emory University, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, emphasized the importance of region-specific measures to achieve meaningful public health improvements at the population level.

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