When we breathe in polluted air, it irritates our respiratory system and we may experience breathing difficulties. In the long run, exposure contaminated air and smoke produced by industries and vehicles can lead to decreased lung function, diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as cancer. Now another health problem might be added to the list—childhood obesity.
Impacts of Obesity in Children
Looking at the many severe diseases linked to air pollution, obesity seems a little insignificant. However, this condition should not be overlooked.
Obesity affects up to 15-20 percent of children worldwide. Aside from the various health hazards linked to obesity such as diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea, gallstones, and cardiovascular diseases. Overweight and obesity also affect the psychological being of children.
Several studies reveal that childhood obesity can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. This is commonly due to social exclusion, negative stereotypes, and bullying. In fact, some experts described being overweight as “one of the most stigmatizing and least socially acceptable conditions in childhood.”
Obesity and Air Pollution
Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) claimed that exposure to air pollution, especially at school, might be liked with a higher risk of overweight and obesity during childhood. In a study published in Environment International, researchers investigated 2,660 children ages 7-10 years old from 39 schools in Barcelona under the BREATHE project.
The team collected data on the children’s height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI). They also assessed the levels of pollution in the school areas. Among the pollutants they measured are nitrogen dioxide, elemental carbon, particle matter, and ultrafine particles. They examined the pollutants twice; during a week in summer and another week in winter.
Jeroen de Bont, a researcher at ISGlobal and first author of the study concluded that children exposed with medium to high levels of the measured air pollutants had “a higher risk of obesity and overweight as compared to those exposed to lower levels.”
It was also revealed that many children were exposed to air pollution levels above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended levels. To be specific, more than 75 percent were exposed to unsafe levels of particle matter. While more than 50 percent were exposed to the above-recommended level of nitrogen dioxide.
The researchers, however, highlighted that their study has limitations. One of the reasons is because their analysis was done with only estimates of exposure levels. Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal researcher and study coordinator explained:
“The study has however some limitations, which means that the results are to be cautiously interpreted. Being a cross-sectional study, we only have data at one time-point, and we do not have enough data to establish the nature of the association. To draw more solid conclusions, we need new longitudinal studies that follow the study participants over time.”
But how can air pollution possibly affect obesity? Researchers explained the underlying mechanisms on the idea. Previous animal studies reveal that air pollution can induce insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and systemic inflammation. These are known factors that contribute to obesity.
In the study in particular researchers identified that ultrafine particles were the pollutants that had the most effect in increasing the risk of overweight or obesity. “This may be explained by the fact that the ultrafine fraction of the particles deposit in greater number and deeper into the lungs than do large-size particles, having more capacity to reach the circulation and induce oxidative stress and inflammation,” the researchers wrote.
With the non-stop technological advancements and industrialization, it is getting more and more difficult to find a breath of fresh air especially in busy cities filled with bustling traffic and pollution. But did you know that there are several places in the world that are completely car-free? Here are some cities and villages which are completely free of honking horns and exhaust gas for your next travel:
1 Bald Head Island, North Carolina, USA
Located at the east side of the Cape Free River in Brunswick County, Bald Head Island, or formerly Smith Island, is a remote area with a population of 158 in 2010. It is known for its picturesque sceneries, old-fashioned cottages built upon golf courses and sea turtles. It is also a nationally recognized barrier island which actively monitors the environment.
2 Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA
Mackinac Island is probably among the earliest cities which banned cars. It is officially free of cars since 1898, on a decree to guarantee the safety of residents and horses. Residents and tourists can only travel by foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn carriage. But that’s not the main attraction of Mackinac Island but its vintage American architecture which is preserved from the classical American era.
3 Lamu, Kenya
Lamu’s narrow streets only have pedestrians, bicycles, and donkey carts. Lamu is one of the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. It is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and a melting pot of architecture. The astonishing building of the Old Town Lamu mixes the styles of Swahili, European, Indian, Arabic and Persian styles
4 Ghent, Belgium
Known for its medieval architecture such as the Gravensteen castle of the 12th century, Ghent is a prominent city-state during the Middle Ages. Currently, the city is known as a cultural hub and university town. The city center of Ghent got rid of cars in 1996 to counter the declining air quality and heavy traffic.
5 Fire Island, New York
A paradise on the outer barrier of Atlantic Ocean that parallels Long Island, New York. It is known for its protected beaches, resorts, picnic spots and golf courses. It is also famous for its magnificent architecture which can be toured by foot, bike, or golf cart.
6 Venice, Italy
We can’t forget canal cities where boats are the protagonists instead of wheels. Venice, which is ranked among the most famous tourist destinations of the world, is also completely car-free. The city is built on 118 islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. It has no roads, just canals, beautiful and delicate bridges, and gorgeous architecture.
7 Giethoorn, Netherlands
Known as the “Dutch Venice,” Giethoorn is another car-free village which only has narrow pathways, bicycle trails, small bridges, and waterways. It is a peaceful, somewhat distant area in the Dutch province of Overijssel known for its thatched-roof, 18th-century farmhouses.
8 Hydra Island, Greece
One of the Saronic Islands in Greece, located in the Aegean Sea, Hydra Island is a tourism hub known for its natural springs and sea views. It is free of motorized vehicles, except for trash trucks. The island can be accessed from the mainland via high-speed hydrofoil or boat. Transportation on the island is via horses, mules, donkeys and water taxis. The inhabited area, however, is so compact that most people just travel on foot.
9 Fes el Bali, Morocco
If you’re looking for a large, bustling, urban area without free of smoke and gasoline, you need to visit Fes-al-Bali, Morocco. It has thousands of medieval streets and alleyways which are too narrow for cars. People can only travel by foot, donkey or cart.
Microplastics are those small, microscopic fragments of plastics that contaminate our environment. Previously we have heard reports on how microplastics are found in most aquatic species that we serve to our dining table. However, we don’t have to look too far to find microplastic contamination. A new study reveals that microplastics can be found directly in common sources of groundwater.
Researchers from Illinois Sustainable Technology Center were the first to report on the presence of microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers. This is a groundwater source which makes up to 25 percent of the drinking water supply worldwide.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are broken down fibers of plastics that can end up at the guts of marine life. According to John Scott, a researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and co-author of the study, microplastics does not just bring chemicals with them, they also act like “sponges” which soak up microbes and contaminants which soon reach our food supply.
Plastics degrade slowly. They can last for up to hundreds or even thousands of years. Most of these microplastics end up in the ocean. In 2014, experts claimed that there are at least 15-51 trillion pieces of microplastics in the world’s oceans.
This results in an increased probability of microplastics being ingested in accumulated on bodies of many living organisms including humans. Previous studies reveal the presence of microplastics in human feces.
Microplastics in Water Systems
In the study published in the journal Groundwater, researchers found microplastic fibers and other contaminants in aquifer systems in Illinois. The researchers collected 17 groundwater samples, 11 of which limestone aquifers in the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, the six are from rural areas in northwestern Illinois.
Results revealed that among the 17 samples, 16 contained microplastic particles with a maximum concentration of at least 15.2 particles per liter. There are still no regulations or risk assessment studies of how much microplastic concentration will be largely dangerous to human health. However, the researchers found that the microplastic concentrations in Illinois are comparable to those found in water sources in the Chicago area.
“The research on this topic is at a very early stage. So I am not convinced we have a frame of reference to state expectations or bounds on what is considered low or high levels,” Tim Hoellein, a biology professor at Loyola University Chicago and study co-author of the study said “Our questions are still basic. How much is there and where is it coming from?”
Where Microplastics Came From
Researchers claim that majority of these microplastics came from household septic systems. “The presence of microplastic was consistent with other parameters, including phosphate, chloride, and triclosan, suggesting septic effluent as a source,” the researchers wrote.
Scott highlighted that just from doing a load of laundry, thousands of “polyester fibers” are gathered into septic systems. These may soon be leaked into the groundwater supply. Groundwater usually flows through the cracks and voids in limestone into the aquifers below.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association or NOAA, 30 percent of the worldwide source of freshwater is groundwater, which can be easily polluted by sewage and runoffs from roads and landfills. With how much the world continue to abuse the use of plastics, microplastic contamination in water sources will be an increasing problem in years to come.