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Indoor temperatures could be contributing to obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Countering Obesity with Weight Loss

Spending time indoors during winter months may be contributing to obesity, suggest researchers.

Researchers at University of College London say there is a potential link between reduced exposure to the cold that may be contributing to rising rates of obesity from two separate effects.

The researchers conducted a review of evidence showing that more time spent indoors parallels rising rates of obesity. They suggest the result is decreased ability to maintain healthy weight from the need for minimal energy expenditure needed to stay warm and produce heat.

They say exposure to cold produces brown fat needed to burn energy. With more time spent indoors and less exposure to cold during winter months leads to more white fat, and thus obesity.

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According to Lead author Dr Fiona Johnson, UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, "Increased time spent indoors, widespread access to central heating and air conditioning, and increased expectations of thermal comfort all contribute to restricting the range of temperatures we experience in daily life and reduce the time our bodies spend under mild thermal stress - meaning we're burning less energy. This could have an impact on energy balance and ultimately have an impact on body weight and obesity."

Johnson adds research into causes of obesity have focused on diet, exercise and genetics, which no doubt contribute to the cause, but "it is possible that other environmental factors, such as winter indoor temperatures, may also have a contributing role."

The findings, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, raises the possibility that indoor temperatures and less exposure to the cold experienced in the U.S., UK and other developed countries may also be to blame for increasing rates of obesity. The authors suggest a new public health strategy for lowering temperatures in buildings during the winter, which would also reduce carbon emissions, could be considered for tacking obesity.

Obesity Reviews: DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00851.x
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