Does air pollution cause weight gain?

The problem of air pollution is growing worldwide. Recent studies have found that air pollution can also cause weight gain.

Air pollution and weight gain
In November 2022, a study published in Diabetes Care found that women in their midlife years were more likely to have higher fat mass, while having lower lean mass, if they were exposed to nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate, and ozone.

The study included 1 654 women who were part of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Air pollution exposures for women were determined based on residential addresses. Body size and composition measurements were made at approximately annual visits.

According to the results of this study, exposure to these pollutants could contribute to obesity.

Potential Explanations
Although the exact mechanism behind the link between air pollution, weight gain and obesity is not fully understood, several explanations have already been suggested.

One idea is that air pollution may alter the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to changes in metabolism, appetite regulation, and energy balance.

Air pollution can also affect the gut microbiome. This has a major impact on weight and metabolism.

Other Considerations
Consider other factors which may contribute to the observed correlation between air pollution, and weight gain. People living in low income communities, for example, are more likely than others to live in an area with high levels of air pollutants and have higher obesity rates.

The link between air pollution, weight gain, and socioeconomic status may at least partly be due to differences in socioeconomic standing.

How Can You Help?
There are ways to reduce exposure to air pollutants. More research is needed to fully understand this link.

Tips for

Keep informed about the local air quality.
Limit outdoor activity, especially when pollution is high.
Use air filters to improve indoor air quality and avoid indoor pollutants like tobacco smoke and chemicals.
Support local, national and international efforts to reduce air pollutants. This includes supporting clean energy policies.
Exercise regularly and eat well.
We can protect ourselves, our families and communities from air pollution. We can also maintain a healthy body weight.