Work life

Forget food: it’s your air-con that’s making you fat

By Adam Westbrook 27 April 2017

Why it's time to get out of your thermal comfort zone.

Forget being sat at a desk all day snacking on Pret croissants while drinking full fat lattes.

No, it turns out it’s actually the air conditioning in your office that’s making you fat.

Thank God.

This is according to research published this week by scientists in The Netherlands.

They do, of course, acknowledge that diet and exercise are still the main causes of weight related health problems, but they argue that the ambient temperature has a part to play too.

Put simply, when it’s a little bit too cold your body responds by using more energy to warm you up. When it’s a bit too warm, your body uses energy trying to cool you down.

The Goldilocks zone

But when the temperature is designed to be just right – as in most offices – your body doesn’t have to do anything.

And so that energy ends up being used elsewhere: namely to pad out your double chin.

“People spend most of their time indoors in dwellings and offices and nowadays most buildings in OECD countries are equipped with heating and air-conditioning to ensure optimal thermal comfort for the occupants” says the report’s author Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt.

“It has, however, been hypothesised that prolonged exposure to such ‘thermoneutral’ conditions can contribute to the ‘weighty’ tipping of the energy balance.”

Even more seriously, he argues that temperature regulation could also be a contributing factor in diabetes.

Humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years to endure daily and seasonal changes in to temperature. But as homo-sapiens have become homo-officeworkers those changes have been lost.

The research is still the early stages but it could have big implications as the human race’s A/C addiction gets worse.

Get out of your thermal comfort zone

So how can you make sure your diet isn’t being undermined by your own office?

Van Marken Lichtenbelt says the key is to make sure your body is exposed to different temperatures as part of your day. This will force your metabolism to respond to either warm you up or cool you down, burning calories.

And technology can play a role here too.

Some buildings are already equipped with air conditioning and thermostats that vary room temperature throughout the working day.

“What would be healthy is to have a more variable indoor climate. It doesn’t need to be as cold or warm as outside, but we could let the temperature drift — following the seasonality and daily rhythm” van Marken Lichtenbelt tells The Times.

Silent but deadly

Happily, this also can help lower the environmental impact of air conditioners.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 700m of the things are going to be installed worldwide in the next 12 years.

That could go up to 1.6bn by 2050 as more people in warmer countries, like India, Mexico and Kenya, enter the middle class.

Scientists are worried the impact on climate change could be disastrous; so if even if it isn’t killing you, your A/C is still killing the planet.