ODU researcher links new type 2 diabetes cases to air pollution

NORFOLK — It’s known that lack of exercise, poor eating habits and genetics can all contribute to type 2 diabetes. But a new global study from the journal Lancet Planetary Health points to an additional culprit: the air pollution emitted by cars and trucks.

The study reported that in 2016 alone, air pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases – 14 percent of the total — around the world. In the United States, air pollution was linked to 150,000 new cases of diabetes per year, according to the study.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs, an ODU professor emerita of exercise science and long-time expert on diabetes, said persistent organic pollutants like pesticides and air pollution can contribute to a host of health-related problems.

“Particulate matter and other toxins in the air are breathed in and lead to inflammation in the body,” Colberg-Ochs said. “Inflammation underlies most metabolic diseases, including insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more.”

She was not involved in the study but said it provided important information by measuring the effects of pollution on new diabetes cases.

Colberg-Ochs specializes in diabetes and exercise research. A frequent lecturer around the world, she is the author of over 400 research and educational articles, 17 book chapters and 12 books.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Old Dominion University)
Sheri Colberg-Ochs (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Old Dominion University)

At Old Dominion, Colberg-Ochs taught undergraduate and graduate courses in exercise physiology, clinical exercise physiology and nutrition for health, fitness and sport. She has led studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association, in collaboration with researchers in Old Dominion’s College of Health Sciences and Eastern Virginia Medical School. She also served as an adjunct professor of internal medicine at EVMS.

Colberg-Ochs said developing countries that are more dependent on the use of coal are at greater risk. Colberg-Ochs traveled to China twice last year and said she experienced firsthand the pollution from the coal-burning factories generating energy in November.

“This problem is only getting worse. China and India have a much higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes than the U.S.,” she said.

Although we can’t control all the air that we breathe, Colberg-Ochs said healthy lifestyle habits including a better diet, more physical activity, improved gut health and a weight loss regimen can drive down the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.