As millions of Americans prepare to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, an interesting new study from the UK reveals that people who live in well-heated homes are not as likely to be obese or have a high body mass index, compared with individuals who keep their houses cooler.
This is a warming thought, as it has recently been reported that the average Thanksgiving dinner weighs in at a whopping 4,500 calories.
The researchers, from the University of Stirling in Scotland, have shown a link between higher temperatures and lower levels of body fat by studying over 100,000 adults who rely on central heating from 1995 to 2007, in the nationally representative Health Survey for England.
Although the researchers note that scientists have recently suggested warmer indoor temperatures could be contributing to rising obesity levels in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, this latest study suggests the opposite is true.
Turning up the heat
Published in the journal Obesity, the study looked at the body mass index (BMI) of the participants and showed that those who live in warmer homes - with temperatures consistently above 73.4 degrees F (23 degrees C) - consistently had lower BMI levels than individuals who keep their homes cooler.
Michael Daly, study author and behavioral scientist from the University of Stirling, says he and his team were originally researching a different hypothesis:
"We set out to investigate the scientific claims that cooler indoor temperatures help us maintain a healthy weight by pushing our bodies to expend more energy through shivering and generating heat through tissues.
In fact, the research suggests people may eat less and burn more energy when residing in a warmer indoor environment."
He and his team took into account various contributing factors, such as excessive calorie intake and low levels of physical activity, as well as other demographic, environmental and health behavior variables, yet these did not reduce the link between high indoor temperature and a reduced BMI.
"This research suggests the obesity epidemic could worsen where heating is turned down below comfortable levels, or off, for lengthy periods to cut costs," Daly adds.
He says that the temperature range of 68.5 to 73.4 degrees F (20.3 to 23 degrees C) provides the greatest comfort - in which we are not hot or cold.
"At temperatures above this, we expend more energy and we eat less because our appetite is suppressed," he says.
Explaining how this works in more detail, Daly told Medical News Today:
"At ambient temperatures above 23 degrees C [73.4 degrees F], heat must be lost to maintain a constant body temperature and this requires energy. For instance, sweating or evaporative heat loss requires energy, as do other forms of heat dissipation.
Coupled with decreased appetite and food intake, the additional energy expenditure associated with household temperatures of above 23 degrees could lead to weight loss."
The study concludes by noting that "further research is needed to establish the potential causal nature of this relationship."
Let them eat pie
Going for seconds? Offsetting Thanksgiving calories by a reduction in calories the days before and after the feast could help keep weight in check this holiday season.
In an unrelated release, Kara Egan, assistant professor from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, doles out tips for healthful eating during the holiday season.
And we are in luck, because she does not suggest we give up our favorite pumpkin or pecan pie.
Instead, she recommends that individuals make sure to eat five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables with breakfast and lunch, in order to leave room for treats during evening events.
"Nearly any choice at evening socials, as long as it is portion controlled, will fit into a balanced diet," Egan says.
She also recommends keeping track of foods consumed, as it is "not too difficult for many Americans to consume 1,000 to 2,500 calories above their typical intake on Thanksgiving day."
By consuming 500 fewer calories in the 2 days before and the 2 days after Thanksgiving, she says we can balance out these extra holiday calories. Though she also recommends adding a daily 2-mile walk - if the sofa does not offer too much temptation.
When it comes to substituting ingredients with healthy alternatives, Egan says to keep the classics as they are:
"Low-fat products often replace the fat with added sugar, resulting in only a slim calorie reduction. Artificial sweeteners just don't taste as good; even if you don't mind them, chances are your guests might. It is a celebration; you want to enjoy the food. Enjoy your food the way you like it, just eat less."
Something to be thankful for this holiday season: you can have your cake and eat it, too. Just not the whole thing.