Science Wednesday: OnAir: With Diabetes, Higher Air Pollution Risks

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New studies by EPA grantees at Harvard suggest that exposure to air pollution makes the cardiovascular risks associated with diabetes even worse.

It’s well known that diabetes can cause an array of health problems and impose taxing lifestyle changes on those who suffer from it. But of all burdens associated with diabetes, heart disease may be the gravest.

Surfing some stats on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website ,  I discovered that among diabetics, at least 65% of all deaths are attributable to heart disease—compared to just 27% in the population as a whole. What’s more, the American diabetes population is increasing at a very rapid pace (check out the maps I adapted from Maps of Trends in Diabetes.

Because of the heart-health risks to people with diabetes, EPA scientists suspected that air pollution, which also affects the cardiovascular system, may be particularly harmful to individuals with diabetes.

A new study has shown that, indeed, individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to be hospitalized for heart problems than those without diabetes.  New EPA grantee studies show that respiratory and stroke deaths related air pollution are also twice as likely in people with diabetes.

So, why does this matter?

This new information is critical to the diabetes community and health professionals because it suggests that people with diabetes may need to pay extra attention to where they live and the air they breathe.

diabetes_1The implication that people with diabetes could be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than the general population is a potentially crucial piece of information for air policymakers.

Under the Clean Air Act , the U.S. EPA is required to set air pollution standards to protect human health. Since there is a wide spectrum of vulnerability to the effects of air pollution, the EPA must design air standards to protect even the most susceptible populations.

As this preliminary research continues, policymakers will have a much better understanding of susceptibility in the growing population of Americans with diabetes.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

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