Air Pollution: Yet One More Thing Making Us Fat

You might want to think twice about raising your child in an urban environment. If the guns, drugs, poor education, gangs or flash mobs don’t get them, there’s a much better chance that fat, obesity and the resulting health problems will. And it doesn’t even matter what you try to feed them; it’s the pollution that’s the problem.

At least, those are the initial findings being reported by Qinghua Sun, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Ohio State University.

Sun took a group of three-week-old mice and subjected them to what’s known as fine particle pollution, the same stuff that causes haze in cities and is produced by a variety of aerosols, fossil fuel burning plants and vehicles, and countless other contributing sources. At less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – or 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair – these ubiquitous particles can penetrate into the gas exchange regions of the lungs.  But the adverse health effects stretched much further than the mice’s respiratory tract.

To further compare possible dietary influences, Sun also split the mice into two groups, one that received 13 percent of their calories from fat and another that got ice cream, donuts, fried chicken and 42 percent of their calories from fat. (I’m sure they weren’t actually fed Krispy Kreme.)

After spending six hours per day, five days per week for ten weeks in the presence of pollution levels seven times that of metropolitan Columbus, Ohio, the high-fat group showed a larger waistline, inflammation, heart troubles and insulin resistance.

And that last one is a big deal.

Insulin resistance is developed during the childhood years and can lead to a lifetime of fatigue, inability to focus, weight gain, fat storage, difficulty losing weight, depression, high blood pressure and a subsequent increased level of wedgies.

The big surprise, however, was that the group that ate healthily experienced the exact same results. Despite cutting out the sweets, the mice still ended up fat with heart problems and insulin resistance. Now, I’m no doctor, but I do read up on quite a lot of nutritional information, and I was under the impression that fat doesn’t cause you to be fat. It’s mainly the number of calories you take in, which is affected by what you eat mainly in how fast you metabolize your food and get hungry again. Plus, high-fat foods pack more calories in less space, so it is easy to consume more calories when eating them. I’d be interested to know whether or not the mice had the same number of calories taken in or not.

Either way, next on the plate is a study in humans living in Beijing, and I think we all remember what the fine particle pollution level there is like (hint, it’s not good, see photo above.)


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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