Healthy living * Weight loss

Is central heating helping to fuel the obesity epidemic?

Is central heating helping to fuel the obesity epidemic? Reduces body's ability to burn energy

Having the heating set on high during the winter months may be another contributing factor to the UK's obesity epidemic, scientists claim.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) say that average indoor temperatures have been rising steadily in the UK and other developed countries in the past decades, resulting in us spending more time at milder temperatures.

Less exposure to colder temperatures means we are less likely to move around to generate heat and burn up calories in the process, but may also lead to a permanent loss of brown fat, involved in heat production.

Unlike our normal white fat stores, brown fat burns energy to generate heat when exposed to cold temperatures. However, recent research suggests spending prolonged amounts of time at warm temperatures may lead to a permanent loss of brown fat and reduce the body's ability to burn energy, contributing to weight gain.

Dr Fiona Johnson, from the UCL Department of 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 then 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."

The findings are published in the journal Obesity Reviews.

This article was published on Wed 26 January 2011

Image © Katarzyna Leszczynsk -

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