Around 23 million Americans have diabetes, Experts warn by 2050 that number could double and possibly triple.
Lack of exercise and unhealthy diets are thought to be major causes of the disease.
Scientists say other factors also put us at risk for diabetes, especially our children.
While diet and exercise play a major role in most people with diabetes, they can't explain cases in people like Crystal Tubbs.
She has type one and type two diabetes, despite the fact she's always eaten right and exercised.
"Nobody in my family, even to this day, has diabetes. Type one or type two, so it really was quite surprising," says Tubbs.
Surprising not only to Tubbs, but to doctors who are puzzled by what they've seen when it comes to diabetes.
"It's resulted in an explosion and an epidemic, if you will, of obesity and type 2 diabetes in various developing countries. And this is really a global pandemic, if you will," says Dr. Sanjay Rajagopalan.
So to better understand diabetes, Dr. Rajagopalan is taking a different approach. He and his research team are looking at more than just the foods we eat, but the air we breathe.
"What we found was, when you expose animals very early on in life, over a duration of 6-8 weeks, they do develop very subtle abnormalities in metabolic dysfunction," says Dr. Rajagopalan.
In other words, the mice became pre-diabetic and the only difference was they air they breathed. Air that is typical in many Asian cities, where pollution often goes unchecked. So why is that an issue here?
"Pollutants tend to travel. Large clouds of dust, for instance, can be transported across oceans and can wind up in the western seaboard of the united states from china," says Dr. Rajagopalan.
That's intriguing to Tubbs. As a diabetic who is expecting her third child, she says the more we learn now, the more proactive we could be in the future.
"If you knew that environmental triggers could put yourself at risk or your children at risk for developing a disease, certainly you would take every precaution to avoid those," says Tubbs.
Researchers say studies will begin soon in china to determine the link between air pollution and diabetes in humans.
In the meantime, they stress diet and exercise should still be considered the most crucial risks in diabetes, but learning more about air pollution and its effects could help curb the growing number of cases.
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