You may be wondering whether I’ve lost a few of my marbles. I had no plans to discuss the possibility that air pollution can make you fat. After all, pollution isn’t something you eat or drink. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with diet and fitness at all. So, this seems like a stupid topic and a waste of blog post.
However, as I was doing the research for my previous post about weird health risks of air pollution, I stumbled across various studies and reports that seem to indicate that there is a connection between the level of pollution you’re exposed to and your tendency to gain body fat.
As someone who lives in a city, I’m sure that I’m getting more than a lungful of some nasty stuff each and every day. Knowing more about the effects of pollution is something I want and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. It has tremendous effects on your health and, possibly, your waistline as well. Let’s see what the real connection between pollution and body fat is…
The Theory Of Air Pollution And Weight Gain
The theory that pollution has something to do with weight gain is a new one. It is not yet fully supported by any studies that I could find. However, this is a theory which is intriguing.
The idea is that the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere and the air we breathe may be playing tricks on our hormones and neural signals. The hypothesis is that the CO2 is causing our hunger and satiety hormones to go awry and this leads to an increase in appetite, lack of sleep, and weight gain.
As lack of sleep is connected to appetite increase, the CO2 may be guilty of only the sleep part. However, the end result, if this connection is indeed true, is all that matters.
This is a big fishing expedition so far that some scientists are on. Researchers are looking beyond the traditional factors of weight gain: calories consumed vs. calories burned and are trying to find new ways in which to explain the raging obesity epidemic. It is quite clear that there are genetic factors and hormonal ones involved as well. The increase in pollution may be another of these yet to be discovered factors.
The reason why this is assumed at all stems from an interesting study which examined the weight of animals in industrialized areas. The goal was to see whether there is a corresponding increase in average weight among these animals to the one seen in humans over the past half century or so. Such an outcome may indicate that environmental factors contribute to this increase.
The study examined both rodents and primates and found that an increase in average weight among these animals does exist. Even those animals who lived in research-environments with a regulated diet showed an increase in weight. As there were about 20,000 animals involved in the study, it does seem that something in our environment is responsible for weight gain, to some degree.
Pollution And Abdominal Fat
Another intriguing study done in Ohio examined mice who lived in a controlled, yet highly polluted environment. The study compared two groups of mice, those in a clean environment and those in a polluted one. Both of these groups were given a similar diet. The study found that just the presence of air pollution led to an increase in fat cells numbers and size in the abdominal area of these mice.
All the studies so far have been done on animals as it is very difficult to isolate the effect of pollution on humans. You may compare those living in a city to people in rural areas, but there are likely to be differences in lifestyles as well. So, for the time being, all assumptions are based on animal studies. However, these studies do lend support to the theory that pollution can make you fatter.
The Behavioral Effect Of Pollution
There may be an indirect way in which pollution makes it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it. If you live in a city, you may have days in which the smog is so heavy that physical exercise is discouraged, especially during busy hours. This is because you’re breathing much faster when you train and, if the air is heavily polluted, it means that you’re taking in more than your regular share of nasty pollutants.
This may make it harder to keep an active lifestyle in a city than it is in less industrialized and less polluted areas. Naturally, you can still go to the gym or do home workouts, but I know that when I visit family in the country that I take more walks and I enjoy spending time outside. I’m simply more active.
The Inconclusive Conclusion
I am not convinced that air pollution makes you fat. The research is unclear on that and I don’t base my decisions on theories. However, I would not be surprised to find out that pollution, in all its forms, does contribute to the overall weight gain humans have seen over the past few decades. The mechanism of how this is happening, if this is indeed the case, is yet unclear.