Associations of air pollution with obesity and body fat percentage, and modification by polygenic risk score for BMI in the UK Biobank

Melissa A. Furlong, Yann C. Klimentidis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Air pollution has consistently been associated with cardiometabolic outcomes, although associations with obesity have only been recently reported. Studies of air pollution and adiposity have mostly relied on body mass index (BMI) rather than body fat percentage (BF%), and most have not accounted for noise as a possible confounder. Additionally, it is unknown whether genetic predisposition for obesity increases susceptibility to the obesogenic effects of air pollution. To help fill these gaps, we used the UK Biobank, a large, prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom, to explore the relationship between air pollution and adiposity, and modification by a polygenic risk score for BMI. We used 2010 annual averages of air pollution estimates from land use regression (NO2, NOX, PM2.5, PM2.5absorbance, PM2.5-10, PM10), traffic intensity (TI), inverse distance to road (IDTR), along with examiner-measured BMI, waist-hip-ratio (WHR), and impedance measures of BF%, which were collected at enrollment (2006–2010, n = 473,026) and at follow-up (2012–2013, n = 19,518). We estimated associations of air pollution with BMI, WHR, and BF% at enrollment and follow-up, and with obesity, abdominal obesity, and BF%-obesity at enrollment and follow-up. We used linear and logistic regression and controlled for noise and other covariates. We also assessed interactions of air pollution with a polygenic risk score for BMI. On average, participants at enrollment were 56 years of age, 54% were female, and 32% had completed college or a higher degree. Almost all participants (~95%) were white. All air pollution measures except IDTR were positively associated with at least one continuous measure of adiposity at enrollment. However, NO2 was negatively associated with BMI but positively associated with WHR at enrollment, and IDTR was also negatively associated with BMI. At follow-up (controlling for enrollment adiposity), we observed positive associations for PM2.5-10 with BMI, PM10 with BF%, and TI with BF% and BMI. Associations were similar for binary measures of adiposity, with minor differences for some pollutants. Associations of NOX, NO2, PM2.5absorbance, PM2.5 and PM10, with BMI at enrollment, but not at follow-up, were stronger among individuals with higher BMI polygenic risk scores (interaction p <0.05). In this large, prospective cohort, air pollution was associated with several measures of adiposity at enrollment and follow-up, and associations with adiposity at enrollment were modified by a polygenic risk score for obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109364
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Air pollution
  • BMI
  • Epidemiology
  • Gene by environment interactions
  • Obesity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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