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Turning up the heating indoors could contribute to rises in obesity, according to new research from University College London.
Office workers and homeworkers who turning up the heating indoors could be at risk of piling on the pounds, according to new research from University College London, which finds a link between turning up heating and obesity.
The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, looked at evidence of a potential causal link between reduced exposure to seasonal cold and increases in obesity in the UK and US.
Reduced exposure to cold may have two effects on the ability to maintain a healthy weight, because it minimises the need for energy expenditure to stay warm and reduces the body’s capacity to produce heat.
The research examined the biological plausibility of the idea that exposure to seasonal cold could help to regulate energy balance and body weight on a population level.
Winter indoor temperatures have increased over the last few decades and there has also been an increase in homogenisation of temperatures in the home.
People are spending more time exposed to milder temperatures because of increased expectations of keeping warm.
The study looked at the role of brown adipose tissue – known as brown fat – in human heat production.
Brown fat differs from white fat in that it has the capacity to burn energy to create heat, and its development in the body is thought to be triggered by exposure to cold temperatures.
Recent studies suggest that increased time spent in warm conditions may lead to a loss of brown fat, and therefore a reduced capacity to burn energy.
Lead author Dr Fiona Johnson, of UCL Epidemiology and Public Health, said: ”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.
”Research into the environmental drivers behind obesity, rather than the genetic ones, has tended to focus on diet and exercise – which are undoubtedly the major contributors.
”However, it is possible that other environmental factors, such as winter indoor temperatures, may also have a contributing role.
”This research therefore raises the possibility for new public health strategies to address the obesity epidemic.”
Co-author Marcella Ucci, of UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, said: ”The findings suggest that lower winter temperatures in buildings might contribute to tackling obesity as well as reducing carbon emissions.”