Association between ambient air pollution and diabetes mellitus in Europe and North America: systematic review and meta-analysis

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 May;123(5):381-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307823. Epub 2015 Jan 27.


Background: Air pollution is hypothesized to be a risk factor for diabetes. Epidemiological evidence is inconsistent and has not been systematically evaluated.

Objectives: We systematically reviewed epidemiological evidence on the association between air pollution and diabetes, and synthesized results of studies on type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).

Methods: We systematically searched electronic literature databases (last search, 29 April 2014) for studies reporting the association between air pollution (particle concentration or traffic exposure) and diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational). We systematically evaluated risk of bias and role of potential confounders in all studies. We synthesized reported associations with T2DM in meta-analyses using random-effects models and conducted various sensitivity analyses.

Results: We included 13 studies (8 on T2DM, 2 on type 1, 3 on gestational diabetes), all conducted in Europe or North America. Five studies were longitudinal, 5 cross-sectional, 2 case-control, and 1 ecologic. Risk of bias, air pollution assessment, and confounder control varied across studies. Dose-response effects were not reported. Meta-analyses of 3 studies on PM2.5 (particulate matter ≤ 2.5 μm in diameter) and 4 studies on NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) showed increased risk of T2DM by 8-10% per 10-μg/m3 increase in exposure [PM2.5: 1.10 (95% CI: 1.02, 1.18); NO2: 1.08 (95% CI: 1.00, 1.17)]. Associations were stronger in females. Sensitivity analyses showed similar results.

Conclusion: Existing evidence indicates a positive association of air pollution and T2DM risk, albeit there is high risk of bias. High-quality studies assessing dose-response effects are needed. Research should be expanded to developing countries where outdoor and indoor air pollution are high.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter