Study Finds Link Between Weight Gain and Air Pollution Exposure

Air emissions from an oil refinery. | Image by Bruce Raynor, Shutterstock

Obesity plagues the U.S., and especially Texas. 252 of 254 counties in the state showed a significant increase in obesity within their populations over the last ten years. Moreover, nearly 33% of Dallas County is obese.

One recent University of Michigan study suggests that air pollution may affect the weight of certain individuals. According to the data, exposure to foreign air particles can affect the body fat of women in their late 40’s to early 50’s by up to 4.5%. 

The study tracked the weight of 1,654 women with a median age of 50 across the U.S. from 2000 to 2008. Researchers then cross-referenced the weight of each participant with average air pollution associated with their zip code. 

Researchers found a link between higher body fat percentage and exposure to air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The body fat of participants in polluted regions on average had 4.5% more body fat or 2.6 lbs.

It is important to note that while researchers established a correlation between the presence of air pollution and increased body fat, this does not indicate the study found pollution to be the direct cause of participants’ weight outcomes. The researchers also found that the effects of pollution on weight can be mitigated by proper, regular physical activity. 

Middle-aged women usually grapple with weight gain. After menopause, many women experience a slower metabolism and hormonal changes that make losing weight or maintaining a steady weight difficult.

Moreover, Dallas has notoriously poor air quality with ozone levels 150% higher than the nationally recommended levels. According to IQAir, a site that tracks the air quality of each city around the world, “Dallas failed to meet nationally mandated attainment levels for 24-hour PM2.5 pollution, ozone days, and annual PM2.5 pollution” in 2019.

The researcher’s findings offer middle-aged women in Dallas answers for their increase in weight. Along with proper diet and exercise, women can invest in proper air filtration systems to help avoid the adverse effects of air pollutants.

Other factors still may be the cause of the increased weight. For instance, women who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution may also live in more car-dependent areas and walk less than participants who lived in less polluted areas.        

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