Accessibility links

Breaking News

Air Pollution Causes Weight Gain in Lab Rats

FILE - Vehicles drive along a road with a traffic sign reading "Visibility low, slowdown the speed" on a heavily polluted day in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015.

Breathing polluted air is not only bad for your lungs, it might cause you to gain weight, according to a new study.

Writing in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, researchers from Duke University say that laboratory rats who were exposed to Beijing, China’s polluted air gained weight.

For the study, which was funded by the Chinese government, researchers exposed pregnant rats and their offspring in two types of chambers. One contained outdoor Beijing air, while the other was equipped with a filter that removed most pollutants.

After 19 days, the rats who had been exposed to the polluted air were “heavier and showed increased tissue inflammation.” They also had 50 percent higher LDL cholesterol and 46 percent higher triglycerides. They also showed a higher level to insulin resistance, which is often associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that rats exposed to the bad air were heavier, with females weighing 10 percent more and males 18 percent more than rats who breathed clean air.

The rats’ offspring showed similar effects.

"Since chronic inflammation is recognized as a factor contributing to obesity and since metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity are closely related, our findings provide clear evidence that chronic exposure to air pollution increases the risk for developing obesity," said Junfeng "Jim" Zhang, a professor of global and environmental health at Duke University and a senior author of the paper.

"If translated and verified in humans, these findings will support the urgent need to reduce air pollution, given the growing burden of obesity in today's highly polluted world," Zhang said.