Can city lights give you diabetes?

2 minute read

Bad news for night owls: if you’re considering a night out on the town, consider your blood glucose first.

It’s a funny old thing, this light stuff. We need sunlight for vitamin D, but spend too much time lying on the beach and you’re in the fast lane to Melanoma City.

But just when an after-dark stroll downtown was starting to sound like a safe(ish) option, Dr Yu Xu and a team from Shanghai’s Jiaotong University School of Medicine have spoilt it all with some pesky research during which they found there may be a link between outdoor artificial light at night (LAN) and increased risk of diabetes.

Following an observational study, published last week in Diabetologia, they estimated more than 9 million cases of diabetes in Chinese adults aged 18 years and over could be attributed to outdoor LAN exposure.

And as rural types are increasingly drawn to the city lights, the problem could only get worse.

The team came to this unfortunate conclusion after collecting and analysing survey-based data on health, lifestyle and location from almost 100,000 people in China. They even roped in a satellite to provide data on their LAN exposure.

Earlier research has already established an association between artificial light and health issues.

In one study, night-shift workers who were exposed to brighter LAN were more likely to have disrupted circadian rhythms, as well as a greater risk of coronary heart disease. Other research found that higher LAN exposure was associated with a 13% and 22% increase in the likelihood of being overweight and obese respectively.

“Considering the coexistence of the diabetes epidemic and the widespread influence of light pollution at night,” the researchers said, “the positive associations indicate an urgent need for countries and governments to develop effective prevention and intervention policies, and to protect people from the adverse health effects of light pollution at night.”

Urban night owls will no doubt be on the look-out for these “prevention and intervention” policies.

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