Persistent organic pollutants and diabetes among Inuit in the Canadian Arctic

Environ Int. 2017 Apr:101:183-189. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.02.002. Epub 2017 Feb 13.


Type 2 diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that is of increasing concern in Inuit communities. Behavioural factors such as physical inactivity and poor diet are well-known risk factors. Exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) has emerged as an additional factor in the pathogenesis of diabetes. In this study, association between polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) with diabetes in Canadian Inuit was examined. Data from the Adult Inuit Health Survey (2007-2008) of Inuit participants from the Canadian Arctic were analyzed. Self-reported diabetes (excluding gestational diabetes) and clinical measurement of fasting glucose were examined as outcomes. Association with individual PCB congeners, sum of dioxin-like PCBs (∑DL-PCB), non-dioxin-like PCBs (∑NDL-PCB), total PCBs (∑PCB), and p,p'-DDE were investigated using multiple regression models adjusted for confounding factors. Using different methods to incorporate serum lipids, highest vs. lowest quartile exposures to PCB-105, PCB-118, PCB-153, PCB-156, PCB-170, PCB-180, PCB-183, ∑PCB, and p,p'-DDE were associated with increased risk of diabetes. For these PCBs, odds ratios (ORs) ranged from 1.9-3.5 (lower 95% CI: 0.8-1.4, upper 95% CI: 4.4-9.0) and for p,p'-DDE the OR was 2.5 (lower 95% CI: 1.1-1.2, upper 95% CI: 5.9-6.0). The highest vs. lowest quartile exposure to most PCBs and p,p'-DDE were associated with an increase of fasting glucose by 3-7%. PCBs and p,p'-DDE were associated with increased risk of diabetes and higher fasting glucose level in a cross-sectional survey of Canadian Inuit. Cause-effect relationships of PCBs and p,p'-DDE with diabetes and diabetes-related outcomes need to be further investigated in a cohort study.

Keywords: Canada; Diabetes; Inuit; Persistent organic pollutants.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arctic Regions
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / analysis*
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inuit
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls