Sex-dependent and body weight-dependent associations between environmental PAHs exposure and insulin resistance: Korean urban elderly panel

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2015 Jul;69(7):625-31. doi: 10.1136/jech-2014-204801. Epub 2015 Feb 10.


Background: The prevalence of metabolic diseases rises rapidly with an ageing population. Recent studies suggest the potential involvement of environmental chemicals in insulin resistance (IR) that plays a core role in the development of metabolic diseases. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous components of outdoor and indoor air pollution. The influence of PAHs on IR may differ depending on sex and weight.

Objectives: We examined the association between exposure to environmental PAHs and IR in Korean urban elderly adults controlling for major risk factors that contribute to an increase in IR.

Methods: Between 2008 and 2010, PAH metabolite levels (urinary 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP)) and the homoeostatic model assessment index (HOMA-IR) were repeatedly measured in 502 adults aged ≥60 years. Linear mixed effect models were fit to evaluate the associations of 1-OHP concentration with HOMA-IR. Subgroups were modelled by sex and weight.

Results: After adjusting for sociodemographics, air pollution and metabolic disease status, the highest (vs lowest) quartile of 1-OHP was associated with an 0.57 (95% CI 0.10 to 1.04) increase in the HOMA-IR score (p trend=0.037). When stratified by sex, women presented a significantly dose-dependent trend of 1-OHP with HOMA-IR (p trend=0.013), whereas no association was observed in men (p trend=0.904). When further stratified by weight (body mass index ≥25 vs <25 kg/m(2)), a significant association was found only in overweight women (p trend=0.023).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that environmental exposure to PAHs is associated with increased IR in elderly adults and that the association may be limited to overweight women.

Keywords: Biomonitoring; ELDERLY; Environmental epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Blood Glucose / analysis
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cotinine / urine
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Overweight / complications*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / urine
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology
  • Sex Distribution
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Cotinine