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Associations between air pollution and multimorbidity in the UK Biobank: A cross-sectional study

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posted on 2023-01-20, 14:52 authored by A Ronaldson, J Arias de la Torre, M Ashworth, AL Hansell, M Hotopf, I Mudway, R Stewart, A Dregan, I Bakolis

Background: Long-term exposure to air pollution concentrations is known to be adversely associated with a broad range of single non-communicable diseases, but its role in multimorbidity has not been investigated in the UK. We aimed to assess associations between long-term air pollution exposure and multimorbidity status, severity, and patterns using the UK Biobank cohort. 

Methods: Multimorbidity status was calculated based on 41 physical and mental conditions. We assessed cross-sectional associations between annual modeled particulate matter (PM)2.5, PMcoarse, PM10, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations (μg/m3–modeled to residential address) and multimorbidity status at the baseline assessment (2006–2010) in 364,144 people (mean age: 52.2 ± 8.1 years, 52.6% female). Air pollutants were categorized into quartiles to assess dose-response associations. Among those with multimorbidity (≥2 conditions; n = 156,395) we assessed associations between air pollutant exposure levels and multimorbidity severity and multimorbidity patterns, which were identified using exploratory factor analysis. Associations were explored using generalized linear models adjusted for sociodemographic, behavioral, and environmental indicators. 

Results: Higher exposures to PM2.5, and NO2 were associated with multimorbidity status in a dose-dependent manner. These associations were strongest when we compared the highest air pollution quartile (quartile 4: Q4) with the lowest quartile (Q1) [PM2.5: adjusted odds ratio (adjOR) = 1.21 (95% CI = 1.18, 1.24); NO2: adjOR = 1.19 (95 % CI = 1.16, 1.23)]. We also observed dose-response associations between air pollutant exposures and multimorbidity severity scores. We identified 11 multimorbidity patterns. Air pollution was associated with several multimorbidity patterns with strongest associations (Q4 vs. Q1) observed for neurological (stroke, epilepsy, alcohol/substance dependency) [PM2.5: adjOR = 1.31 (95% CI = 1.14, 1.51); NO2: adjOR = 1.33 (95% CI = 1.11, 1.60)] and respiratory patterns (COPD, asthma) [PM2.5: adjOR = 1.24 (95% CI = 1.16, 1.33); NO2: adjOR = 1.26 (95% CI = 1.15, 1.38)]. 

Conclusions: This cross-sectional study provides evidence that exposure to air pollution might be associated with having multimorbid, multi-organ conditions. Longitudinal studies are needed to further explore these associations.


AH acknowledges funding from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Exposures and Health at the University of Leicester, a partnership between UK Health Security Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, and the University of Leicester. IB, RS, and MH are supported by the NIHR Maudsley BRC and IB and RS are supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South London at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London. RS is supported by the DATAMIND HDR UK Mental Health Data Hub (MRC grant MR/W014386).



Ronaldson A, Arias de la Torre J, Ashworth M, Hansell AL, Hotopf M, Mudway I, Stewart R, Dregan A and Bakolis I (2022) Associations between air pollution and multimorbidity in the UK Biobank: A cross-sectional study.Front. Public Health 10:1035415.doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.1035415

Author affiliation

National Institute for Health and Care Research, Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Environmental Exposures and Health


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