The Frontal Cortex

Air-Conditioning Makes You Fat

A new paper in The International Journal of Obesity explores several of the ignored factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic. Sure, corn syrup and lethargy are bad, but other suspects include:

1) The decrease in smoking. Apparently, the Virginia Slims advertisements are accurate. Smoking really does make you skinnier by suppressing your appetite.

2) The rise of Prozac. Most anti-depressants have weight gain has a possible side-effect, and when 33 million doses of Prozac are being dispensed every year, those side-effects are bound to have an effect on our collective waistline.

3) Heating and air-conditioning: When we live in an environment that is either excessively hot or cold, our metabolism has to work extra hard to maintain normal body temperature. Sweating and shivering burns calories.

As the researchers note, their evidence is far from conclusive. But the paper does a wonderful job of reminding us that obesity is a disease with many different causes. Before the conventional wisdom gets too cemented, it’s worth remembering that being fat isn’y only a by-product of Big Macs.

Can you come up with any other possible causes for the obesity epidemic?

Update: Slate’s Sydney Spiesel has a good take on the new study as well.


  1. #1 bill thater
    July 14, 2006

    how about too much food?;-) snark aside, we have access to a lot more food that we used to, and it’s easier for us to cook it as well. no more slaving over a hot stove, just nuke the sucker.

  2. #2 Janne
    July 14, 2006

    Better, well-rounded diets with more fresh vegetables and greater variety of foods?

    With no nutritional deficiencies to hamper growth (as it were), people are free to utilize all nutrition to the fullest possible extent, even though they may not actually eat more than their ancestors.

  3. #3 Janne
    July 14, 2006

    Oh, and antibiotics and improved hygiene. We no longer feed a host of parasites in addition to ourselves, and our appetites (and ability to digest) are mostly no longer hampered by frequent, serious infections.

  4. #4 Melinda
    July 14, 2006

    Obvious, yes: but we get around without much physical effort these days as well. Walk? Are you kidding?

  5. #5 nikki
    July 17, 2006

    i heard that the idea that we’re all becoming fatter is actually a statistical error; the average is increasing because the obese weigh more now, not because there are more overweight people. not sure if that is true – has anyone else read that?

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