Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Another reason to worry if you live near a highway.
There's a pretty prolific literature on the harmful health impacts of auto pollution. It's been linked to severe heart attacks, to atherosclerosis, to higher rates of asthma among children who might as well be immersed in second-hand smoke.
As a health concern endemic to urban environments, air pollution and its consequences rank right up there with the rise of obesity and its related uptick in diabetes. Now, it turns out the two problems may also be intertwined. New research [PDF] published in the journal Diabetologia found that children growing up in areas exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollutants had higher levels of insulin resistance, one precursor to diabetes.
The German research team collected blood samples from nearly 400 10-year-old German children, most of them in Munich, and analyzed auto emissions around the home addresses where the children were born (the study controlled for socio-economic status, birthweight, Body Mass Index, and second-hand smoke in the home). For every 500 meters a child lived closer to the nearest major road, insulin resistance increased by 7 percent by the time they were 10. As the researchers write:
Given the ubiquitous nature of air pollution and the high incidence of insulin resistance in the general population, the associations examined here may have potentially important public health effects despite the small/moderate effect sizes observed.
The study is the first of its kind to connect long-term exposure to traffic-related pollution with insulin resistance in children. And it raises a couple of questions researchers may be able to answer as the subjects of this study age: What happens when children move away from high-traffic neighborhoods? Do the effects remain with them even into adulthood?