Are Warm Houses Making Us Fat?

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Are Warm Houses Making Us Fat

While browsing the world wide web  the other day, I ran across this article  on treehugger that suggests that cranking up the heat in our homes during the winter could be making us fat.  At first, I was like, I am pretty sure eating too much crap is making us fat, but the article had an interesting argument that I thought I would throw out to you.

Apparently, cold temperatures activate “brown fat” that we carry in our upper backs and neck.  It doesn’t behave as regular fat, it insulates us from cold weather AND burns a ton of calories doing so.  When we aren’t exposed to colder temperatures, because our homes are completely and comfortably climate controlled and our cars are toasty warm during our commutes, our “brown fat” isn’t activated, thus contributing to the rising numbers on the scales.

hot cocoaThe article threw out some interesting statistics {yes, I said interesting and statistics in one sentence}:

The average temperature of British homes in 1978 was 64.9, by 2008 it had crept up to 70.8.  They offered similar numbers for the U.S. and even argued that before central heating, bedrooms were kept significantly cooler than the main living area of the house, because the main living area would have been heated by a fireplace or woodstove, making transitioning from room to room a little more work for our brown fat.  {Brown fat or not, I was totally shocked by how much we have cranked up the heat–I wonder if our ancestors think we are big fat {pun intended} babies?}

Of course, there are opponents of the whole arguments–saying regular diet and exercise are still the best bet.  Where do you sit?  You think there is any truth to the whole keep it cold to keep the weight off theory?


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  1. Mary Renner says:

    I would consider this a valid argument, I have lived in that controlled heated temperatures most of my life until about 2 years ago. Where I live now it is much colder and I do not have centralized heating of any kind. Occasional use of electric heaters, we use a wood stove for the main source of heat, this involves constant work of monitoring and not to mention chopping, which I do everyday. Have I lost weight? I have, but this also includes a much healthier diet than I have ever been on before, vegetarian, no gluten no diary, so the combination is what helps, but I think you are on to something.

  2. My husband likes it around 60 -65 degrees, I guess he wins this one!

  3. I think society in the developed world has been moving toward a sedentary lifestyle over the last 30 years or so. With an attitude of entitlement and the increasing use of media, many people have become less active. When you are less active you feel colder and many, instead of getting up and moving around, simply turn up the heat. I heat my home with a wood stove and I love it. Our bedrooms are significantly cooler than the rest of the house, which is better for a good night’s sleep in my opinion. The fact that I have to cut wood and feed the stove to maintain a comfortable 68 degrees is, I feel, better for my waistline than having a forced air heating system. I think that extra heating is more of a result of a sedentary lifestyle and eating large amounts of processed foods rather than a cause of the weight crisis that society is experiencing today.

  4. Being that cold just makes me angry.

  5. While there may be some valid scientific data, I disagree with the relationship to the climate control. I grew up in very warm south FL. We never turned on the heat but maybe one day a year, the other 364 days we had our A/C pumping to keep our home at a comfy 74 degrees. Based on this argument, my brown fat was never activated. I would also make a general assumption just based on different regions of the country I’ve visited and lived, there are fewer obese or fat people in South FL than say a rural midwestern town. If brown fat really played a role in this, I think all of South FL and say south TX, the southwest etc would all be butterballs. I think that while our brown fat may help burn some calories, it’s certainly not the only factor. I think there are a ton of factors that go into our fat contributors since 1978- ie- more women working outside the home so people seek quicker, less healthy meals than 30+ years ago, less physical activity and let’s face facts, many of our cold weather months are smack dab in holiday season so we eat like pigs until January 1 and then we make resolutions that nobody keeps to loose the weight. Bottom line, if someone claims that they cannot loose any weight due to the temps in their home, that’s a big ol’ lame excuse. I think based on health factors, keeping your heated or air conditioned home a bit cooler is better for your wallet and your health as far as longevity. It’s been proven it’s not good for sleep in warm conditions for other reasons beyond your caloric burning capabilities.

  6. My warm house usually involves shoveling! Due to medical issues, I have had to totally readjust my eating habits….no processed anything, mostly organic as the chemicals wreak havoc in my body…no fast food ever…no soft drinks, mostly water, fresh juice and I love, love black tea. I have to peel the skins from most fruits or I cannot eat them and where most folks would say eat more vegetables, I have to be extremely careful with that. But all that being said, I suspect it’s all interrelated…we cannot take one thing in our environment without including the rest of them to make a point about weight or a sedentary lifestyle.

  7. My grandma brought up brown fat when we were at the zoo in the dead of winter walking around. I suppose most people don’t walk around outside in the winter, but assuming people do go outside, I would think their brown fat does get activated. Walking the dog and other recreational winter activities get you outside in the cold. Maybe bundling up cancels out brown fat? Now I’m curious as to how this works.

  8. I had an interesting experience with my sheep this year that makes me agree completely with the premis of the article. We sheared our sheep a bit late this year and then we immediately experience an early drop in temperature. Our sheep lost an alarming amount if weight in just days. We had to more than double their rations to get them to put back on the weight. Interestingly it took longer to put back on the weight than it did for them to lose it. I suspect it was because of the continual cold (couldn’t give ‘em back their wool) that made it difficult for them to put back on the weight. I’m sure if I loaded them up with sodas and fries they’d have gotten fat super quick!

  9. Our house is freezing. Hmmm. I wish this theory worked for me!

  10. B ETTY DAVIS says:

    Very interesting…..Just looked at a video of a young lady that weight way over 1000 lbs…..and she lived near the Mexican border. Most of her fat was from the waist down. The Dr. did say she has thyroid issues. ….along with the temps./comes the factor of your gene’s/and then theres the mind…….so theres so play a part in todays world. Then theres those in Alaska…..its surly cold there…and most of the video s Ive seen of people in the artic….working….were very thin people…..and surly they keep warm as much as they can….with those cold temps there. So Id say…..lots to put into using weather as a weight issue.

  11. Jody Graves says:

    I think this article has merit- I have also read research statistics that say that drinking ice water burns more calories than warm liquids…although I would think having the rooms colder would be healthier than freezing your insides. The other benefit of cooler indoor temperatures, especially in the bedrooms, is that the air will not be as dry, thus better for ones sinuses.
    I have kept my thermostat very low this year because of my budget and wear warm clothes inside. It seems quite comfortable at 60 degrees , and often I let the temp hover close to freezing at night (just don’t want to freeze the water pipes!)
    P.S. I love your reindeer candy idea- it is adorable. But we don’t eat candy…so trying to think of something that could be substituted- maybe this candy cane idea is worth going falling off of the no candy wagon…just for the holidays!

  12. I think there is more than one thing making us fat but lowering the temperature of our houses would go a long way toward helping reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and if it also makes us a little less fat, then hallelujah. We keep our heat off at night and at 65 when we’re home, and our bedroom window open at night all year round, and I know I sleep better.

  13. I’m way thinner living in the Arizona desert than I was living in cold north (Vermont).

  14. I have got progressively used to the cold and now keep my house around 58-60 degrees. It’s well insulated and if I am chilly I put on a sweater. I always gain weight in the winter and lose it in the summer. And I am always hungrier in the winter than in summer.
    In theory that is interesting but I think diet and exercise play a part too.

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