Associations of air pollution, obesity and cardiometabolic health in young adults: The Meta-AIR study

Environ Int. 2019 Dec;133(Pt A):105180. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2019.105180. Epub 2019 Oct 15.


Objective: Growing evidence indicates exposure to air pollution contributes to obesity and cardiometabolic disease risk in children and adults, however studies are lacking in young adulthood, an important transitional period in the life course. The aim of this study was to examine the associations of short- and long-term regional ambient and near-roadway air pollution (NRAP) exposures on adiposity and cardiometabolic health in young adults aged 17-22 years.

Methods: From 2014 to 2018, a subset of participants (n = 158) were recruited from the Children's Health Study to participate in the Meta-AIR (Metabolic and Asthma Incidence Research) study to assess obesity (body composition and abdominal adiposity) and cardiometabolic health (fasting glucose, fasting insulin and lipid profiles) measures. Prior 1-month and 1-year average air pollution exposures were calculated from residential addresses. This included nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter < 10 μm (PM10), particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter < 2.5 μm (PM2.5) and NRAP (freeway, non-freeway, and total nitrogen oxides (NOx)) exposures. Linear regression models examined associations of prior 1-month (short-term) and 1-year (long-term) air pollution exposures on obesity and cardiometabolic factors adjusting for covariates and past childhood air pollution exposures.

Results: In the Meta-AIR study, we conducted a comprehensive analysis with short- and long-term regional ambient and NRAP exposures (in both single- and multi-pollutant models) and obesity- and cardiometabolic-related outcomes and found associations with a few outcomes. A 1 standard deviation (SD) change in long-term NO2 exposure was associated with a 11.3 mg/dL higher level of total cholesterol (p = 0.04) and 9.4 mg/dL higher level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL)-cholesterol (p = 0.04). Amongst obese participants, associations between long-term NO2 and total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol were 4.5 and 9 times larger than the associations in non-obese participants (pinteraction = 0.008 and 0.03, respectively). Additionally, we observed a statistically significant association with increased short-term O3 exposure and higher triglyceride and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol levels (p = 0.04), lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels (p = 0.03), and higher hepatic fat levels (p = 0.02). Amongst glucose-related factors, long-term PM2.5 exposure was associated with higher levels of insulin area under the curve (p = 0.03). There were no other statistically significant associations with short- or long-term air pollutants and BMI, other measures of adiposity, and cardiometabolic outcomes.

Conclusion: Higher exposure to regional air pollutants, namely prior 1-year average NO2, was associated with higher fasting serum lipid measures. These associations were more pronounced in obese participants, suggesting obesity may exacerbate the effects of air pollution exposure on lipid levels in young adults. This study did not find any other associations between short- and long-term ambient and NRAP exposures across a range of other obesity and cardiometabolic indicators. Further studies in young adults are warranted as our study suggests potential deleterious associations of both short- and long-term air pollution exposures and lipid metabolism.

Keywords: Ambient air pollution; Cardiometabolic health; Near-roadway air pollution; Obesity; Young adult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Lipids
  • Male
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / analysis
  • Nitrogen Oxides / analysis
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Ozone / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Lipids
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter
  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen Dioxide