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Could Central Heating Promote Obesity?

By Laura Elahi on January 25, 2011

In recent times, Britain has been accused of shutting down at the first sign of unseasonably cold weather. In December, heavy snow and ice caused chaos throughout the country as people struggled to dig cars from their wintry blankets, airports ground to a halt and delivery companies seemingly gave up on Christmas.

Other countries, however, appeared to cope well in similar conditions and attention has been directed at various European nations that enforce the use of winter road tyres and other such measures. In truth, Britain enjoys a relatively mild climate, which is why legislating for the occasional harsh winter is not deemed entirely sensible by politicians. Quite aside from the severity of last year’s winter, could it be argued that Britons have become dangerously reliant on central heating to survive?

According to Dr Fiona Johnson, a researcher from the University College London’s Epidemiology & Public Health Department, it may be the case that Britons are suffering as a result of their dependence on warm homes.

In a statement released this week, Dr Johnson 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.”

There are many possible causes of obesity in Britain, not least those concerning diet and exercise, but the warmth of homes cannot be dismissed as a factor behind one of the country’s most serious health problems to date. Amid the rising cost of fuel bills, Britain has demanded record amounts of fuel to sustain domestic heating systems.

Last month’s big freeze was largely responsible for the increased use of gas central heating, but could it be countered that Britons are placing too much emphasis on the warmth of homes in a general context? If Dr Johnson’s claims are accurate, Britons ought to consider turning down the thermostat and investing in energy saving measures such as double glazing and loft insulation – doing so might save more pounds than expected.