Turn down your thermostat to lose weight, suggests new study! (Dripping with sarcasm)

So now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you off the bat that making your home cold is not the most viable weight-loss strategy  –  despite what the headlines might suggest.

A recent study was published in the International Journal of Obesity which looked at a number of uncommonly explored potential contributors to obesity, including sleep restriction, house temperature, television watching, consumption of restaurant meals , use of air conditioning and use of antidepressant/antipsychotic drugs.

The authors followed up a sample of 1282 normal weight individuals for a total of 6 years to see who became obese, and tried to tease out factors that may have contributed to the development of their obesity.

Over 6 years of follow-up, 103 of these folks became obese. When the researchers looked back to the beginning, the individuals who eventually would become obese were different from those that maintained their normal weight in a number of ways:

  • Greater saturated fat intake
  • Greater frequency of eating out at restaurants
  • More time spent watching television
  • Lower fiber intake
  • Less physical activity
  • Greater use of anti-depressants
  • Less hours of sleep
  • Greater home temperature  as well as greater use of air-conditioning (this combination is a bit counter intuitive)

In subsequent regression analyses, the authors tried to examine which of these factors was a significant predictor of becoming obese after controlling for all the other factors. In this analysis, low physical activity, frequent restaurant meals, having a high home temperature and not sleeping enough were all significant predictors of becoming obese.

What should be the take home message from this study? As we and others have suggested on numerous occasions: limit eating out, screen time, and saturated fat intake and get some regular physical activity, decent sleep, and keep up your fiber. And you should do these things regardless of your weight status – your health is also important.

Essentially we’ve learned NOTHING NEW here.

What has the media taken away from this study?

Keeping your home temperature higher than average leads to obesity, so we should all turn down our thermostat.

In a few of these articles, well known obesity researcher, David Allison, is quoted and it is quite amusing how his commentary nicely reflects the real lack of significance to these new findings the media are seething over.

Here is an example:

“I wouldn’t say to anyone that if you turn down your thermostat, you’ll lose weight.”

As to the potential benefit of reducing your thermostat, he says: “You’ll almost certainly reduce your energy bills.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Have a great weekend.


Bo, S., Ciccone, G., Durazzo, M., Ghinamo, L., Villois, P., Canil, S., Gambino, R., Cassader, M., Gentile, L., & Cavallo-Perin, P. (2011). Contributors to the obesity and hyperglycemia epidemics. A prospective study in a population-based cohort International Journal of Obesity DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2011.5

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12 Responses to Turn down your thermostat to lose weight, suggests new study! (Dripping with sarcasm)

  1. WendyRG says:

    I believe the techical term for such suggestions is: garbage. I do like saving a bit on home heating bills though.

  2. Azkyroth says:

    It occurs to me (bolstered, slightly, by the anecdote that my ex-wife refuses to turn her central heater down below about 70) that higher home temperature and more use of air conditioning (= greater overall use of climate control) may be a symptom of difficulty in balancing immediate desires or impulses against the awareness of the potential consequences of actions, which might also affect eating and exercise patterns and thus contribute to obesity in some individuals. I wonder how this hypothesis could be tested…

  3. Pingback: Obesity better controlled with cool temperature and sound sleep: Study – IC Tech News

  4. Orchid64 says:

    “Greater home temperature as well as greater use of air-conditioning (this combination is a bit counter intuitive)”

    I think this may have to do with tolerance of discomfort or a higher sensitivity to it. It could be that people who tend to overeat are easily overwhelmed by negative stimuli or feel pain more acutely. The inability to withstand hunger pangs or cold or warm weather may be related.

    I offer this as an alternative to the “impulse control” issue suggested by another commenter, not as an augment. I think there is a great deal of variability in sensitivity (just as there is in visual or auditory acuity) and that it is far easier to withstand discomfort of all types for some people than others because the exact same stimuli doesn’t register in the brain as acutely uncomfortable for people who feel they have greater “impulse control.” They may not have greater impulse control, but rather less sensitivity. In essence, it’s easier for someone to resist what feels to them like a gentle pressure to act on discomfort whereas people who are obese may register the same pressure as a big thorn in their side. T

  5. Michele says:

    Could this also be consistent with the research showing that obese people have a greater tendency to respond to external cues to eat, rather than the actual hunger?

    I could see that leading to an over-reliance on home heating and cooling just as easily as it could lead to over-eating.

    i.e. It is sunny out, so I will turn up the AC even though I am actually not all that hot.

    This isn’t my field so I am not arguing, either, just asking. =)

  6. Tatianna says:

    really shows how research can come to ridiculous conclusions. you really have to dig deep and read the studies, not just the abstract/conclusion – which is likely what media do.

  7. Obviously I’m not going to argue that thermostat temperature is a major factor in obesity… but I will stick up a bit for the research! There was actually a paper in Obesity Reviews in January proposing this exact theory, called “Could increased time spent in a thermal comfort zone contribute to population increases in obesity?”

    I blogged about it here (http://sweatscience.com/turn-down-the-thermostat-to-battle-the-obesity-epidemic/) — with a predictably controversial response! :)

    Interestingly, the Obesity Reviews paper argued that we would see precisely what this new prospective trial finds: greater use of heating AND greater use of air conditioning — the idea being that spending time out of the thermally neutral comfort zone burns calories. There’s also evidence that seasonal exposure to cold stimulates the production of brown fat; and that the pathway for diet-induced thermogenesis is the same as the pathway for cold-induced thermogenesis (i.e. shivering), so that persistent cold exposure causes you to burn more calories after meals even when you’re not cold.

    Now, all of this is certainly far from showing that thermostat settings play even a minor role in obesity. But it’s not a completely crackpot, tinfoil hat idea. The study looked for associations based on a plausible mechanistic hypothesis, and indeed found associations. Are we supposed to ignore those associations because they’re not the ones we already believe to be true?

    As for the media response, what should have been reported? As Peter points out, nothing else in the study was new. There are certainly many problems with the “breakthrough” mentality that predominates in science journalism — but if I’d seen this study and decided to report on it, the thermostat stuff is the angle I would have found most interesting — while making sure, of course, to get comments from someone like David Allison to put it in appropriate context!

  8. Pingback: Sweat Science » Wait, maybe thermostat settings really do affect weight

  9. Dan says:

    In addition to the higher/lower tolerance possibility people raise, I wonder if there’s also a correlation with how much time someone spends inside at home – if I’m going out, I turn down the heating/air conditioning. Or did the study just look at what the thermostat is at while someone was at home?

  10. Thanks for such information. For sure, a lot will be happy and curious at the same time to turn down their thermostat.

  11. Phentermine says:

    Well, you have had to collate so much info but you have helped one person at least!

  12. I genuinely got into this write-up. I located it to be interesting and loaded with unique points of interest. I like to read material that makes me think. Thank you for writing this fantastic content.