A new study of overweight Latino children in Los Angeles finds exposure to air pollution may increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The USC study, published in the journal Diabetes, involved more than 300 Latino children, mostly in east Los Angeles, who were overweight or obese. Researchers regularly checked the children's glucose and insulin levels over a period of years. The results indicated how well the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin were functioning.
The study found that among the children living in areas with higher levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, those cells were more inefficient, which put the youngsters at higher risk.
"We measured how badly [the insulin-producing cells] were deteriorating over time and that was our measure of progression towards type 2 diabetes," said Michael Goran, Director of USC's Childhood Obesity Research Center and a senior author of the study.
He said it's not yet clear how air pollution is affecting the functioning of the cells.
Other studies have examined the effect of air pollution on diabetes, but researchers say this is the first time a study has looked at effects on children over time.
Sung Kyun Park, who researches pollution at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, called the study "very valuable and important."
Noting that the findings can only be generalized to overweight and obese Latino children, he said, "the next question is whether air pollution also impacts the person with a body mass index within the range of normal — not overweight."
The number of people developing type 2 diabetes has risen in recent years, among them a growing number of children. Researchers have suggested that the increase is in part due to a rise in childhood obesity. The rate of diabetes is higher among Latinos.