Diabetes – Another Consequence of Climate Change?

It’s hard to understate the damage wrought by diabetes in the United States. Consider that in 2016 alone, this disease claimed nearly 80,000 deaths in the United States. The prevalence of diabetes is only expected to increase, and recent
evidence suggests that global warming could be at least partly to blame for this trend.

More Heat Waves, More Diabetics

Quick question – what would an average temperature increase of 1.8 degrees F have on diabetes statistics? A group of Dutch researchers contends that the effects would be catastrophic, causing more than 100,000 US adults to develop
diabetes annually.

Digging further into the issue, the authors found that the same increase in temperature was likewise associated with a slight uptick (0.173%) in obesity rates. Even when state-by-state obesity rates were factored into the equation, the diabetes-temperature connection remained rock solid.

The Problem with Brown Fat

So what explains the apparent link between obesity and rising temperatures? The answer may involve a curiously-named substance called “brown fat”. In short, our bodies rely on brown fat to insulate us from the cold fall and winter

The study authors couldn’t identify the exact reason why rising temperatures went hand-in- hand with both diabetes and obesity. However, they speculate that brown fat might be the culprit. In a warmer climate, the body’s need for brown fat diminishes significantly.

Publishing their work in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, the Dutch team opined that their data was “consistent with the hypothesis that a decrease in BAT activity with increasing environmental temperature may deteriorate glucose metabolism and increase the incidence of diabetes.” Worldwide temperature increases might partially explain the sharp spike in global diabetes cases; 108 million adults were diabetic in 1980, a figure that ballooned to 422 million by 2014.

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