Epidemiology and Population Health

Does artificial light-at-night exposure contribute to the worldwide obesity pandemic?

Abstract

Background:

Worldwide overweight and obesity rates are on the rise, with about 1 900 billion adults being defined as overweight and about 600 million adults being defined as obese by the World Health Organization (WHO). Increasing exposure to artificial light-at-night (ALAN) may influence body mass, by suppression of melatonin production and disruption of daily rhythms, resulting in physiological or behavioral changes in the human body, and may thus become a driving force behind worldwide overweight and obesity pandemic.

Methods:

We analyzed most recent satellite images of night time illumination, available from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), combining them with country-level data on female and male overweight and obesity prevalence rates, reported by the WHO. The study aims to identify and measure the strength of association between ALAN and country-wide overweight and obesity rates, controlling for per capita GDP, level of urbanization, birth rate, food consumption and regional differences.

Results:

ALAN emerged as a statistically significant and positive predictor of overweight and obesity (t>1.97; P<0.05), helping to explain, together with other factors, about 70% of the observed variation of overweight and obesity prevalence rates among females and males in more than 80 countries worldwide. Regional differences in the strength of association between ALAN and excessive body mass are also noted.

Conclusions:

This study is the first population-level study that confirms the results of laboratory research and cohort studies in which ALAN was found to be a contributing factor to excessive body mass in humans.

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Correspondence to N A Rybnikova.

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Rybnikova, N., Haim, A. & Portnov, B. Does artificial light-at-night exposure contribute to the worldwide obesity pandemic?. Int J Obes 40, 815–823 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2015.255

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