An unbalanced diet, an excess of foods rich in fats and sugars and a sedentary lifestyle are considered the main causes of obesity. But from today we know that there is also another risk factor for the accumulation of body fat and for the increase of body weight and waistline, pollution. This emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the journal Diabetes Care by a group of American scientists from the University of Michigan School of Public Health (Wang et al, Diabetes Care, Sep 2022).
Obesity, causes and risks
Obesity and the accumulation of fat, especially at the waist level, are conditions to be counteracted. The problem is not aesthetic but concerns health as these conditions increase the levels of inflammation and the risk of developing diabetes, depression, cardiovascular problems and cellular degeneration. This is why it is important to understand the mechanisms that lead to weight gain and the accumulation of fat. Until now, lifestyle and diet were considered to be the main culprits. Now, thanks to this new research, we know that another factor also comes into play, exposure to pollution. But let's understand better.
Pollution increases the risk of obesity, the study
The researchers drew on data collected on 1654 women participating in the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation project. All the women had an average age of 49 years, belonged to different ethnic groups and were followed by researchers for 8 years, from 2000 to 2008. For all the participants in the study data regarding body weight, body mass, waist circumference and body fat distribution were available. Not only that, based on the residence address, exposure to pollution, in particular to fine particles, was also known for each volunteer. Well, what emerged is that women, all between 40 and 50 years old, most exposed for long periods of time to fine particles saw an increase in the accumulation of body fat by an average of 4.5% and a decrease in lean mass, which is all that part that includes the muscles, bones and organs, excluding the accumulated fat. However, scientists have also been able to observe that moderate and regular exercise is able to counteract the harmful effects of pollution on body weight.
At the moment the study was conducted only on middle-aged women and there are no equal conclusions for other age groups or men. In addition, the mechanism by which pollution makes you fat is still not understood. Therefore, research must continue to shed light on these aspects as well. In any case, even if partial, these results make it clear that the action of fine particles involves the whole body, not only worsening the health of the lungs, airways, brain and skin but also increasing the risk of obesity and the accumulation of fat around the waist. Hence the importance of spending time outdoors in places away from traffic, perhaps in the countryside, parks or woods and practicing moderate physical activity, also avoiding busy roads and rush hours with more vehicles around.