Is Air Pollution Linked To Weight Gain?

Air pollution is a growing concern worldwide. In addition to its well-known health effects such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems, recent studies have also found a potential link between air pollution and weight gain.

Air Pollution and Weight Gain

A study published in the journal Diabetes Care in November 2022 found that exposure to fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) was associated with higher fat mass and lower lean mass in midlife women

The study included 1,654 women from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (the SWAN study). The women’s air pollution exposures were assigned based on their residential addresses, and body size and composition were measured during approximately annual visits. 

The results of the study suggest that exposure to these pollutants may contribute to obesity.

Potential Explanations

The exact mechanisms behind the association between air pollution and weight gain are not yet fully understood, but several explanations have been proposed. 

One idea is that air pollution may alter the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to changes in metabolism, appetite regulation, and energy balance. 

Another potential explanation is that air pollution may affect the gut microbiome, which has a significant impact on metabolism and weight.

Other Considerations

It is important to consider other factors that may be contributing to the observed association between air pollution and weight gain. For example, Individuals living in low-income communities are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution and also have higher rates of obesity. 

This suggests that the link between air pollution and weight gain may be due, at least in part, to differences in socioeconomic status.

What Can You Do About It?

While more research is urgently needed to fully understand the link between air pollution and weight gain, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to air pollutants. 

Here are some tips: 

  • Stay informed about local air quality in your area. 
  • Limit outdoor activities, especially during times of high pollution.
  • Improve indoor air quality by using air filters and avoiding indoor pollutants such as tobacco smoke and chemicals. 
  • Support local and national efforts to reduce air pollution, including supporting clean energy policies.
  • Eat well and exercise regularly.

By doing so, we can protect ourselves and our communities from the harmful effects of air pollution and maintain a healthy weight.