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Warm Homes in Winter May Contribute to Obesity Epidemic

TUESDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Higher indoor temperatures during the winter may be contributing to rising rates of obesity in the United States and other developed countries, according to a new British study.

Reduced exposure to cold may affect the ability to maintain a healthy weight by minimizing the need for energy expenditure to stay warm, as well as reducing the body's capacity to produce heat, said the researchers.

They found that winter indoor temperatures in the United States and the United Kingdom have increased over the past few decades, which means people are spending more time in milder temperatures.

"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," study author Fiona Johnson, a researcher in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said in a UCL news release.

"Research into the environmental drivers behind obesity, rather than 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. This research therefore raises the possibility for new public health strategies to address the obesity epidemic," Johnson said.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Obesity Reviews.

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The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains how you can achieve weight loss for life.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Jan. 24, 2011

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