#1 Reason “we’re all FAT!”

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I’ve been thinking about this a while. I’ve heard a million reasons why Americans are fat. Why our children are fat. Why the parents are fat. I usually hear two reasons – it is because of the shitty food we all eat. And it is because we all sit in front of the computer and TV, especially our kids, and aren’t outside and exercising nearly enough. I’m not going with it.

This weight gain scenario has happened mainly in my lifetime. I went to elementary school with 60 other kids my age. There was only one child out of 60 that I considered chubby. He wasn’t even close to fat by today’s standards. Every other kid was skinny as a rail. And a lot of these kids didn’t have much interest in sports and most all of us ate the worst for you, best tasting, food we could get in our mouths. This was the era when McDonalds really kicked into gear. Hostess were coming out with new products all the time. Canned potato chips. We ate candy and drank pop whenever we could. And no one was even close to fat.

So I think that the reason that most Americans are fat is solely because of climate control. Heating and A/C. And I do mean the word solely. I think that we have limited our exposure to variants of temperature so greatly, that we don’t use nearly as many calories controlling our body temperature, thus we’re all getting fat.

I know that might sound kind of screwy, but here is the math. It takes 3500 calories to gain a pound of fat. So to gain 20 pounds a year that is 70000 calories extra. If you take that 70000 calories and divide it by 365 days of the year, you get 191 calories a day. Divide that 191 calories by 24 hours in a day and you get 7.99 calories an hour. So to gain (or lose) 20 pounds of fat a year, you have to consume (or burn) around 8 calories extra an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

That isn’t much. I’ve read we burn around 700 calories an hour when we’re training on our bikes. That is close to 12 calories a minute. So, in theory, if you really wanted to lose 20 pounds in a year, all you’d have to do is ride you bike, at our training speed, around 16 minutes a day and you’d lose that 20 pounds. That’s just a little over a quarter of an hour. But, it seems that people get on these exercise routines and don’t lose close to that much weight.

It takes a ton of energy to heat and cool our bodies. Regulating the temperatures of our bodies takes the majority of calories we consume. As humans. Especially as athletics. If you want to read a long paper on this, click here. Being a little out of your comfort range in temperature takes much more than 8 calories an hour. A lot more.

I experienced this extremely driving back from Delavan on Monday. The A/C on my van quite working. I had the parts to fix it, but in the State of Wisconsin, they don’t sell 134a unless you’re a certified repair person. Anyway, we drove back the whole 9 hours with no A/C. It wasn’t even that hot until we were getting closer to Kansas. Most the trip was in the mid 80’s. And I was toasted when I got home. It was a combination of the heat and the air movement/noise. I finally put a piece of tissue in my left ear because of the wind noise. I burned a ton of calories. Bromont was exhausted in the back seat. He burned more calories than I did for sure. Probably something to do with being covered with hair.

This was pretty normal when I was a kid. We used to go on vacation to Colorado in a convertible. My brother and I would be in the backseat, in the sun all day. We were so sunburnt by the time we got to Denver. That doesn’t even take into consideration the wind and noise. We didn’t have any air conditioning in our house until I was 13. Then it was just a window air conditioner downstairs. When I moved in with my grandmother after than, we didn’t have any air conditioning at all. Nearly all summer, I’d sleep outside on a deck on a cot. Or if I was sleeping inside, I’d have a fan blowing on me all night. And in the winter when I was a kid, I remember coming downstairs and sitting next to the heater register with a blanket over me eating cold cereal before going to school. It was cold in our house in the early mornings in the winter.

But this is not the case anymore for most Americans. Everything is so climate controlled that college students wear shorts in the dead of winter at KU. It amazes me riding through campus in January how many students are wearing shorts. That wouldn’t have worked when I went to school. I would have froze.

I don’t have a solution how to “fix” this problem. I don’t want to be driving around all summer with the windows open at 80mph. And I don’t want to be waking up in the morning shivering in winter. But, we are burning way less calories than our parents did because of climate control. So since we don’t want to be either hot or cold all the time, we as a country need to address this weight problem by – eating less junky food, not sitting on our butts so much and exercising more.

This was my normal driving position most of the way back. It was okay for the first few hours, but got kind of old after 700 miles.

25 thoughts on “#1 Reason “we’re all FAT!”

  1. Bret Sehorn

    I hear the “genetics” blame game all the time now. Slow metabolism, etc. I’m 150-165 depending on the season and my brother is 260+. Growing up people thought we were twins. I ate 2+ cheeseburger, fries, coke etc growing up and doubt I could finish a large double cheeseburger today. He could probably (and does) eat two. Doesn’t seem genetics has much to do with it. When was the last time you saw a group of kids playing – kick the can, hide and go seek, wiffle ball, kick ball, etc in the neighborhood?

  2. Jon

    I can recall similar in my past in south Arkansas: No central heat or air, consistantly outside playing, eating everything that I liked .
    Now days, I ride alot, eat smart, and still consider myself overweight @ 170 &5’8. My wife controls her eating, but does not exercise at all, and at 46 she is 5’8 and 120. She grew up in Fort Worth TX with Central Heat and air.

  3. rusty

    and here I thought it was REMOTE CONTROLS and CORDLESS PHONES – how could we have a show like Green Acres today? or Mr. Ed?
    the over-emphasis on education / careers killed any hope of outdoor enjoyment; e.g. Glamping < glamorized camping includes satellite dish, WiFi, Hot water hookup – cannot even feel the AM dew

  4. chad

    Your forgetting about high fructose corn syrup. We used to eat sugar not corn. Also the largest soda was 16oz when I grew up in the 70s. Now you see kids drinking 42oz of soda. I think your idea is correct too. It’s lots of things adding up.

  5. Jeff

    Keen insight, and I tend to agree. Anyone who has been in very cold environments knows about what snow scientists call “shivering thermogenesis”–muscles shaking and shivering to generate heat–comes at a caloric cost.

    A sociology prof once told me that A/C also ushered in the breakdown of the Community; in the past, everyone sat outside on their stoop to avoid the heat inside, and thus everyone talked and socialized. Now everyone is in their own cocoon.

  6. Ken Harkin

    Thanks for taking me back to being a kid in Iowa. My feet were constantly purple in the winter from freezing in the house and I, too, spent my breakfasts huddled by the radiator. In the summer my brother and I roasted in the only upstairs bedroom and the only window air conditioner we had was in the offset dining room. It’s amazing that our diets now contain less fat than 30 years ago, but as a nation we are so much more obese. Air conditioning was the death of old growth neighborhoods as everyone could then move out into the treeless suburbs. I look at my “skinny as a rail” children now and am glad they swim, bike, play tennis, and run around like crazy.
    Oh, and I agree with Chad: high fructose corn syrup is a killer in so many ways most people don’t realize. Just say no to HFCS.

  7. jpeters

    Jeff is right, just look at the shift in architecture, houses are further apart, people have moved from their porches to their houses and fenced in back yards. People pull into their garages and never engage their neighbors. We have also gone from 4 channels when I was a kid to endless, endless numbers of channels. TV has become almost like a slot machine- I’ll just keep flipping until I find SOMETHING that I can watch. Interesting observations though.

  8. Brian

    HFCS is not this horrible thing for athletes. I have data regarding the performance benefit and can post my own and links if requested. It is, however, likely worse than regular sugar for sedentary people. And it is in many things. Sedentary people need less energy and less carbohydrates overall.

    And for sedentary, overweight individuals, not having to regulate temperature is only one part of the whole problem. The are in constant homeostasis in a sense causing “metaflammation”. Lack of exericise, positive energy balance, constant temperature, stress, bad sleeping habits, etc. are all parts of metabolic disorders.

    With out posting specific links, go to pubmed and look up Jeukendrup for the carbohydrate/HFCS (fructose) benefit to athletic performance and metaflammation and Hotamisligil in pubmed for metabolic dysfunction.

    And there is data that individuals who live in colder climates/work outside in those climates have more brown adipose tissue, and thus, “waste” more energy to produce heat via uncoupling proteins in the BAT.

  9. CurbDestroyer

    My take on it is because of the quality of food we have today. Particulary “Diet” food. Your body sends your brain a hungry signal when it needs vitamins, minerals, or whatever. Our food today is vitamin deficient, so in order to fill you body’s requirments, we all have to eat more food. Like Michael Pollan says, if your grandmother didnt eat it, then probably you shouldn’t either.

    High glycemic carb foods play a key role. Particulary sugars. You can’t buy anything without sugar. Even ketchup has sugar in it. The problem is these high glycemic foods get stored as fat before they can be burned. Then pretty soon your hungry again. I could never understand why I could go to a chinese buffet and eat 5 plates of food, then be hungry 2 hours later. Then it was brought to my attention that they load a lot of it up with sugar.

    Let’s don’t forget alchohol, and this may partially explain my last paragraph. One reason alchoholics crave alchohol is because you body craves the path of least resistance. It take 4 cal to burn 1 gram of carbohydrate, and 2cal to burn 1 gram of carbohydrate. If you drink a lot your body will begin to anticipate alchohol, and start storing the carbs, and fats rather than burning them because it’s easier to burn alchohol for energy. That alchohol part was from a book called “Under the Influence”.

    Just my two cents without going into too much detail.

  10. drew holbrook

    I get skinnier in the winter fighting off the cold skiing now.
    than I do melting in the heat on the bike cause I usually retreat to a/c and Ice cream

  11. poyntell

    No to A/C, fast food, and corn syrup and yes to more kick the can, hide and seek, and heading to the park to play!

  12. woodman

    Haven’t had AC in years, we wear sweaters in the winter and sweat in the summer. I drink like a fish, ride daily, (but not enough). Still 175 lbs at 6 ft. Without the beers I was 155, but I’m happy. Friends that live in “comfort ” are 200+ and don’t know how I can handle the heat and work that I love. I still haven’t heard of anyone drowning in sweat.

  13. nailheadtom

    When Thermo-King tests bus air conditioning systems, they attempt to replicate with incandescent bulbs the heat produced by a stationary human, which they say is 350 BTU/HR. Even as someone that works in the HVAC industry, I’m amazed at the way indoor climate control has taken over the American life-style in just one generation, going from a novelty/luxury to an absolute necessity in roughly 30 years. Its effects on social life are obvious but you’re definitely on to something in regard to its contribution to our general physical decline.

  14. jay chesterman

    This is very interesting concept and I agree we live in different times with less activity, more consumption, and more comfort. I also find the comments on sugar/HFCS interesting. HFCS in soda and many other products is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Sugar or Sucrose is broken down into glucose, the form the body uses for energy. The process of breaking sucrose down involves an enzyme and is done very efficiently by the body. Sugar (sucrose) and HFCS are basically the same thing. It is a major misnomer in that HFCS is much worse for you than sugar.

  15. Jazzy

    The amount of comments on this topic is amazing. It shows that there is a great concern over the issue of obesity and society. I think it should serve as a huge wake up call to all of us to evaluate where society is headed as it move into the future. We should consciously decide how we want to live our lives. We have that power, we should use it.

  16. Curb Destroyer

    On the face of it all, the food industry spends millions, if not billions of dollars each year engineering food so you eat more of it. The more food they sell, the more money in their pockets. They will sell you saw dust if it put a dollar in their pockets, and I’ll go as far to say they do with all the High Fiber “foods” . . . if you can call it food.

    I like to avoid MSG, so I read a lot of lables. I’ve been noticing a trend lately. It seems it’s almost impossible to buy foods without “Natural Flavors” in it. Do a little reseach and see what fall beneith the “Natural Flavors” umbrella.

    I was at the grocery store the other day and had a thought. Why is there a small section of food in here call “Health Foods”. . . . No really, should it not be the opposite where 95% of the store is health foods, and the other 5% Mystery Foods?

  17. Hudson Luce

    I’d think your analysis would be reasonable had my central air conditioning not failed back in the middle of July when it started to get really hot here in Topeka. My house got down to 92F at 3pm, even with a fan I’d soak my sheets with sweat. I finally broke down and bought two 5000 BTU window unit a/c’s, which brought my bedroom temp down to a comfortable 82F all day long. I don’t use the a/c in my car at all, just open the windows. My longest drive has been about 700 miles one way to Yellow Springs, Ohio for an intensive course in Edible Forest Garden design, 7 days, 12-14 hours/day, in 90F 80% relative humidity. We did stay in Antioch University dorm rooms, which seemed refrigerated at 75F. Every week or so I mow 1/2 acre of lawn at my house in North Lawrence, on Tuesday it took one hour and 15 minutes, and it was the coolest day I’d done it at 85 F, the hottest day it was 100F, but then I’d done 1 1/2 hours of aikido before in a dojo with only fans so I was well acclimated to the heat that day. Of course, I always drink lots of water and orange or grape juice for the electrolytes. So do you think I’ve lost weight? By your rationale, I should have, but I haven’t lost any weight at all, still 220 lbs at 6’1″. Of course, that’s what I weighed back in 1993; only when I began riding again from 1995 to 1998 or so did I get back down to 195 lbs, and that’s at least 150 miles/week… So I believe that exercise is as much of a part of this as avoiding HFCS and neurotoxins such as MSG and “natural flavors” and “spices” and “hydrolysed ___ protein” and so on (which means virtually *all* processed foods), on top of reducing or at least controlling cortisol levels.

  18. h Luce

    erase the message above about “central air conditioning” or you’ll get nailed by tons of spam from China or where ever.

  19. Rich D

    Interesting theory.

    BTW, not a good idea to ride in a car with your leg out the window or on the dash. Airbags deploy at 100+mph. It will push your leg back right through the front seat.

  20. bobf

    Dont agree with your AC theory sorry. I lived in Europe, noticed people ate much smaller portions and walked everywhere. Also didnt have AC, but when i returned to US my European habit of walking and smaller portions helped keep my weight down even tho i had AC . Think about it, its the lifestyle, you go to the gym and people will kill u for a parking space close to the front door and then they run on a treadmill for a half hour. When my sister visited me in Europe she told me we were walking 8-11 miles day. I used to see a woman in her 80’s walk 2 miles everyday to get to her hillside garden & pick fresh tomatoes for dinner.

  21. Bob Rebsamen

    As a memeber of ASHRAE (America Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers) I cannot agree with your thesis, since there is no study to support it. When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s we had no AC , and Dad worked for an Air Conditioning company. However, in those days we were no exposed to the “Living Better by Chemistry” (High Fructose Corn Syrup) in all of our foods. My Mom prepared fresh fruits and veggies everyday. times have changed, and we live in a preprepared meal society, and the life of the microwave.


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