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Does Raising the Thermostat Increase Obesity?

Study Suggests Link Between Keeping Warm and the Obesity Epidemic

Turning Down the Thermostat continued...

While diet and exercise clearly contribute to changes in body weight, there are other factors that contribute to obesity including the theory advanced in this new report, he says.

“There is no question that there is less variability in the temperature where we spend most of our time, and this paper explores in more detail some of the aspects of thermogenics or heat making that occur in the cold,” he explains. “You may lose some of these natural weight-gain blunting abilities when in a temperature-neutral environment most of the time.”

There is no proven way to capitalize on this phenomenon.

“Putting ice around your shoulders will be uncomfortable and there is no evidence that it will help burn fat or lose weight,” he says.

“There is merit in this thought process,” says Mitchell Roslin, MD, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, of the new study.

“If I put you out in the cold, you have to burn enough energy to keep your body temperature at 98.6 F to stay relatively warm,” he says. “That is why we are considered warm-blooded.”

The colder it is, the more the body has to come up with sources to keep this going, he explains.

“This is an adaptive mechanism that we have lost because we are not out in the chronic cold anymore,” he says.

Roslin suggests keeping your house temperature under 70 degrees and spending more time being active outdoors to help more efficiently burn calories.

Fighting Obesity

Scott Kahan, MD, co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, D.C., points out that this phenomenon, while interesting, plays only a “minor contributing role in the obesity epidemic.”

It may help researchers better understand a role for brown fat in weight regulation and highlight ways to manipulate or activate brown fat stores in the future, he says.

“We are essentially all gaining weight, and largely this is due to environmental changes,” he says. "We need to address the ‘obesogenic’ environment that our society has become and help people learn to better navigate these environments.”

This new study in no way, shape, or form suggests that cooling will combat obesity, he says.

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