Does Diesel Exposure Lead to Obesity?

Obesity is a serious issue that can significantly impact one’s quality of life and lead to many health concerns.  In America, 35.7% of U.S. adults were listed as being obese between 2009-2010; this figure is up by approximately five points from 2000, when 30.5% of U.S. adults were listed as obese.  Poor diet coupled with a sedentary lifestyle can influence whether one becomes obese or not, and genetics may also play a role, but is there something else going on?

Unlike being overweight, obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 30 or higher.  BMI is calculated using one’s height and weight range.  While there’s no question that eating junk food and a lack of physical exercise is not good news for the body, researchers are now adding additional data to the obesity puzzle citing that diesel exhaust exposure while in utero could also be a factor.

According to the FASEB Journal, “Pregnant mice exposed to high levels of air pollution [diesel in this case] gave birth to offspring with a significantly higher rate of obesity and insulin resistance in adulthood than those that were not exposed to air pollution.” To conduct this study, after entering adulthood, mice offspring were placed on either a high-fat diet, consisting of 45% saturated fat, or a low-fat diet, consisting of 10% saturated fat. Researchers found that regardless of their adult diets, male offspring from moms exposed to diesel were heavier than the male offspring from moms exposed to clean air. Interestingly, according to the study, diesel-exposed female offspring were heavier than clean-air exposed females only if they consumed a high-fat diet as adults. Female offspring also never developed indications of insulin resistance, implying hormones may also be at play.

The results from this research, albeit based on mice and not on humans, suggests that air pollution, particularly diesel exhaust, could be adding to the obesity epidemic hitting America as well as other nations, including developing China and India.  It’s important to note, although not demonstrated in this study, that obesity in human adults often begins in childhood, when eating habits develop, not just in adulthood.

Nevertheless, what’s interesting about this study, besides its implications for regulatory policy, is that pollution is rarely — if ever — mentioned when linking obesity to lifestyle. It will be interesting to see what other environmental factors may be correlated to this epidemic, in addition to various other common health concerns that are typically isolated to the individual.

Related Stories:

A Better Way to Understand Obesity’s Impact

Obesity in Asia: American Fast Food is Fare for the Rich

Photo Credit: Pastorius


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

Ever since countries became industrialized needing more and more "fuel", we have been RAPIDLY MURDERING our PLANTED

Rosie Jolliffe
Rosie Lopez5 years ago


Sue H.
Sue H5 years ago

Someone got paid to torture mice for this article?? Sad.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B5 years ago

As good an excuse as any I suppose.

Christine Stewart

Another cruel animal experiment trying to find out why people are obese- can you imagine the poor animals stuffed into chambers, inhaling diesel fumes until they are killed and dissected. Seriously people, stop killing animals to find the magic pill to combat obesity. It's called eat less, move more...

Pirjo Ho
Past Member 5 years ago


Arild Warud

Thanks for the info.

Kris Allen
Kris Allen5 years ago

Randi L.
I am quite sure, by your dramatic tone, that you are not a scientist or even familiar with scientific research. It amazes me how many people think they already know everything and leave no room for new information.

Rebecca P.
Rebecca P5 years ago

Now to be fair, there are those who were athletic early in life, but met with physical disability which prevents them from being active. You tend to eat just as much, if not more from boredom. still, diesel fumes have nothing to do with the added pounds. And to be honest. I'm a big girl myself, and I'm not looking to blame anything other than my love of good food and watching movies. I exercise to keep from getting too big. But I will never blame diesel, genes, or lipstick for my excess weight.