Facebook Twitter

Recent study reveals a link between air pollution and obesity in middle-aged women

A recent study reopens the conversation about obesity — and how to address it

SHARE Recent study reveals a link between air pollution and obesity in middle-aged women
Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, United States.

Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets, near Emmett, Kansas, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. A recent health study has found that there may be a link between obesity in middle-aged women and air pollution.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Recent results from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation found that there may be a link between obesity in middle-aged women and air pollution.

The study, published in Diabetes Care, followed 1,654 women from 2000 to 2008. The median age of the participants was 49.6 years. Researchers measured body weight and composition, and also tracked the participants’ annual air pollution exposure.

What were the results of the study?

In a nutshell, researchers discovered that the more air pollution participants were exposed to, the likelier it was that they became obese. Specifically, women who were exposed to air pollution had a body fat increase of 4.5%.

According to the study, “Our analyses provide evidence that exposure to (air pollution), is adversely associated with body composition, including higher fat mass, higher proportional fat mass, and lower lean mass, highlighting their potential contribution to obesity.”

Why does pollution increase the likelihood of obesity? “Research shows that it appears that air pollution may lead to metabolic dysfunction — meaning, it affects your metabolism and how your body stores cholesterol,” Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Yahoo Life.

“Air pollution also seems to be tied to chronic disease onset, whether it’s diabetes or obesity,” Stanford continued.

Obesity in America

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41.7% of Americans were obese in 2017 through 2020. Obesity can lead to:

  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Specific types of cancer.

Public Health calls the reason behind America’s high obesity percentage “complex.” While Americans are eating bigger portions — Americans ate 20% more calories in 2000 than in 1983 — we’re also being bombarded with confusing and often conflicting messaging about dieting and health. In Public Health’s words, Americans are “confusing diet for nutrition.”

Obesity bias in health care

Many obese Americans experience “obesity discrimination” in health care. Ellen Maud Bennett, a Canadian woman, reportedly felt unwell for years. After seeking medical help, health care professionals told her that the solution was losing weight.

In 2018, Bennett was ultimately diagnosed with cancer. She was given days to live, and died shortly thereafter.

According to Medical News Today, obesity bias can cause health care professionals to “behave in discriminatory ways, such as blaming serious health issues on weight and, therefore, inadvertently ignoring other possible causes.”

Obesity bias can have other adverse effects. According to an article in the journal Clinical Diabetes, obesity bias can lead to:

  • Disordered eating.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Suicidal behavior.
  • And much more.

Addressing obesity

Obesity is a nuanced and complex issue — and should not be approached with “fat-shaming.” However, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that between 76% and 88% of participants were fat-shamed by family members, such as parents or siblings.

The best place to address health? It’s in the home, Rebecca Puhl, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told CNN.

Instead of feeding into shame and simplified stigmas about weight, Puhl recommends having compassionate conversations about “healthy behaviors.”

According to Puhl, “... oversimplified and inaccurate societal beliefs persist that if you just try hard enough you can have whatever body you want — those are the beliefs that really fuel societal weight stigma.”

“Fundamentally, this issue is about respect and dignity and equal treatment of people across different body sizes and weights,” Puhl continued.