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According to the World Obesity Atlas, over a billion people worldwide are expected to be obese by 2030. With 2.8 million people dying every year as a result of obesity, it is important to find ways to mitigate the risk. One thing that could help may be to combat climate change – at least that’s according to a new study. The research, coming out of the University of Michigan, has suggested that air pollution may be an obesity risk factor that we’re not talking about.

Pollution and obesity – the link

1 654 Caucasian, Black, Chinese, and Japanese women participated in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. For the purpose of the study, researchers from the University of Michigan tracked all of those participants, whose baseline median age was close to 50, between 2000 and 2008. The team also cross-referenced the residential addresses of the participants with hybrid air pollutant concentration estimates from 2000 to 2008.



The researchers then analyzed any and all associations between local air pollution levels and each participant’s body size and composition measures. 

Air pollution is making women obese

“Women in their late 40s and early 50s exposed long-term to air pollution — specifically, higher levels of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone — saw increases in their body size and composition measures,” Xin Wang, first study author 

Per the findings, which were published in Diabetes Care, middle-aged women who had long-term exposure to air pollution experienced a 4.5 percent (2.6 pounds) increase in body fat, an increase in body mass index, and a decrease in lean mass. 

Exercise can combat pollution weight gain

While the notion that air pollution could be another risk factor for obesity is concerning, the study did have some good news. The researchers investigated the relationship between air pollution and physical activity on body composition, and the findings were promising.

The findings revealed that adequate exercise can effectively both mitigate and perhaps even offset air pollution exposure.

Protecting yourself from air pollution

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 7 million premature deaths a year as a result of air pollution. Air pollution is a threat to longevity, and it is important for us to protect ourselves. In addition to getting enough exercise, here are a few ways you can mitigate the risk and effects of air pollution;

polluted air | Longevity LIVE


  • Use the air quality index (AQI) to guide your movements and try to stay out of unhealthy zones.
  • Try to exercise indoors, especially in the mornings when smog levels are at their highest
  • Invest in air purifiers or air-purifying indoor plants 
  • Replace filters
  • Quit smoking
  • Stay hydrated
  • Encourage the promotion of renewable energy by holding governments and corporations accountable

Want to know more?

Excess weight can take a toll on your body, especially your heart. We recently spoke to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Florencia Halperin who explained the importance of weight loss and why it should be personalised. 


Wang, X., Karvonen-Gutierrez, C. A., Gold, E. B., Derby, C., Greendale, G., Wu, X., Schwartz, J., & Park, S. K. (2022). Longitudinal Associations of Air Pollution With Body Size and Composition in Midlife Women: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Diabetes care, dc220963. Advance online publication.


Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.