Could Air Pollution Cause Autism and Diabetes in Children?

This is a guest post from the Environmental Defense Fund

The list of reasons you should be worried about air pollution just got a little longer. Two recent studies have highlighted how the most vulnerable members of society, babies and young children, may be suffering serious health consequences due to air pollution in their communities:

  • Researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health reported that pregnant women exposed to high levels of diesel particulates or mercury were twice as likely to have an autistic child compared with peers in low-pollution areas.
  • A new research paper published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), found that growing up in areas with high air pollution raises the risk of insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes) in children, as reported in Science Daily.

“What both of these studies are telling us is that exposures early in life can have profoundly significant health impacts,” said Sarah Vogel, director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Health program. “Both of these studies provide more evidence that chemical exposures early in development can significantly increase our risks for serious chronic diseases later in life. We’re seeing evidence of this in animal studies of chemicals, some of which have been associated with increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems, obesity—so called obesogens, and diabetes.”

Air pollution and autism

“In the Harvard study, the researchers found an association between air pollution—really a complex mixture of pollutants that are known to be neurotoxic— and autism,” said Vogel. “But because many pollutants travel together in the air, the researchers were unable to identify with confidence which pollutants may be the most critical in the development of autism.”

Air pollution and diabetes

“What makes the Diabetologia paper strong is that it followed the children forward through time and found a positive correlation between increase air pollution and insulin resistance,” explained Vogel. “Not all insulin resistance will result in diabetes (type II) but it is an important risk factor for the disease.”

Given that type II diabetes is now the most common chronic disease in children (1 in 400 children or adolescents has it), aggressively seeking to mitigate any of its causes is a health and social justice imperative. The U.S. spent $245 billion treating diabetes last year, so the literal cost of inaction is substantial, as well.

All of these kids are the victims of circumstance, and they had nothing to do with the air pollution that’s undercutting their odds of a healthy life free of disease. If you want to learn more about how toxic chemicals found in the air and everyday products impact health, here’s what you need to know.

This article originally appeared on the EDF Voices blog and is reprinted with permission.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Don Swanz
Don Swanz4 years ago

Looks like we took a month or so off on this one. In any case, that still does not change the answer to the question; which is a resounding YES! Don and I CAN! :-))

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Environmental Defense Fund, for Sharing this!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Bruno Moreira
Bruno Moreira4 years ago

Nowadays nothing seems to surprise me

Val M.
Val M4 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Interesting article.

Alison Venugoban
Alison Venugoban4 years ago

I completely agree with Jessica L. My family were full of such strange dreamers, hermits, eccentrics, etc. All of them nowadays would have rated the term "Aspergers" at the very least. I only got my diagnoses of high functioning autism at the age of 42, ten years ago, but because I'm female, autism was never mentioned when I was a child. Because the belief back in the 1960's was that only boys got autism and it was always associated with extreme mental retardation. The fact that I was a girl who consistently got very high grades at school but could never understand social cues, liked playing by myself, enjoyed lining up my toys in orderly rows and categorising and making lists of things was ignored as just being "odd".

Jessica Larsen
Janne O4 years ago

Don S: Of course high functioning autism and ADD were unheard of 60-70 years ago; the diagnosis didn't officially exist then, despite the work of Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. The conditions still existed though, and a British survey showed that it's as prevalent (1 in 100) among old people as it is in the younger generations, ruling out pollution and vaccines. Don't confuse lack of knowledge about something with the existence of said thing. The world didn't suddenly turn spherical when people stopped thinking it was flat. People with ADD, AS and HFA didn't receive their disorders as a result of the new diagnosis. The problems were always there, just with other names, like weird, eccentric, hermit, loner, daydreamer etc.

Don Swanz
Don Swanz4 years ago

I grew up in the 40's and the 50's and during that time frame, "air pollution" as well as "water pollution"; among others, were unheard of. In our town of 18,000 - and the neighboring towns of 5000 and 1000 - there was one (1) individual who had "diabetes" and "autism" and "ADD" were unheard of.

My brother and sister as well as our four (4) cousins drank "raw milk" and "water from the well" as well as from our two (2) creeks that ran through the property. We also ate "raw eggs"
- make a hole in both ends of the egg and then suck it out - and the list goes on.

Now, you don't have to believe that "air pollution" is a major cause of "diabetes" and "autism" - although I do, along with a few other things - but at least think about it; then do your own research, especially into the make up of polluted air.

Light a fire in your fireplace (BBQ smoke with do) and don't open the dampener and let's see what happens: lungs; eyes and clothes. Don and I CAN! :-))