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Has Air Conditioning Made People Fat?

August 3, 2011 · 55 comments

in Health & Fitness, Home & Garden

When I was growing up, nobody in my neighborhood had air conditioning.  Most houses relied on a box fan in the window to cool off.  My problem was, and still is, I hate fans.  They are so noisy, they keep me awake, and I just don’t like the feel of wind on me.  I remember trying to go to sleep with the fan on, and then I would get up and turn it off, then turn it on again… The bottom line is, it was hot, humid, and we had no way to cool off.

The funny thing is, I don’t remember complaining TOO much about it.  Sure I whined when I couldn’t fall asleep, but still, each day I got up and played outside until the street lights came on.  Not going outside wasn’t an option for me or any of the kids in the neighborhood.

I look at the parks and neighborhoods in the summer today and no kids are playing outside. At first I just figured all the kids were hooked on Xbox.  However, I think another big part of it is kids don’t want to play in the heat. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a choice. Now days, kids are much more comfortable inside than outdoors, and even my own family is inside a lot more than I was.  I even wait to do my gardening until the evening when it has cooled off a little.  Basically, I think people don’t want to deal with the heat, because they just don’t have to.

However, I look back so fondly on the days of my childhood of playing outside with everyone else.  I was reminded of those days when I recently drove through an older neighborhood that did not seem to have many homes with central air. In this neighborhood, I saw people barbecuing, sitting on the porch socializing, and kids were riding their bikes all over the place.  These kids were all skinny too, and were having a fantastic time.

I correlate part of the modern world’s obesity problem to the popularity of air conditioning.  It is just too easy for kids to be comfortable inside and sitting around the house all day.  It seems now like it is almost child cruelty if you have your kid play outside between noon and three on a hot day.

What do you think?  Do you see many kids outside playing as much in the summer as you did when you were a child?  Do you think air conditioning has anything to do with obesity rates?

(Ironically, the person in the car sitting next to me as I type this has her windows rolled up, and the car has been running for literally the last hour.  I have my windows open, so I get to enjoy the heat from her car pouring through my window and also get to listen to her engine run endlessly.)

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Reasons August 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

Brilliant theory, I honestly think you are on to something here!

I’ve never heard the correlation between obesity (or at least being fat) and air conditioning before, but it makes sense that the two are highly correlated!

Now you have me wondering what other ailments may be caused indirectly by air conditioning too 🙂

Great article!!!


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Thanks MR. I think there are a lot of things in America that make us fat. However I was just looking at the very simplistic view of how being cool and comfortable keeps people sitting around the house more.


The Biz of Life August 3, 2011 at 9:03 am

Try growing up in the south without air-conditioning……. not a lot of fat people around after 3 months of 90+ degree heat. It takes away the appetite. I do remember playing outside a lot more than any kids today and the grown-ups sitting on the porch fanning themselves with revival fans.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I can’t imagine living in the south in the summer, although when I picture my ideal home, it looks like the one Forrest Gump grew up in. I would love a giant porch and a revival fan.

Can you drive around where you grow up and see if there is more air conditioning and fatter people? 🙂


Money Beagle August 3, 2011 at 9:11 am

There are two boys that live next door, and it always amazes us, because in springtime when the weather first breaks, they’re outside all the time. Summer vacation comes and we never see them. They don’t go to camp or to relatives house, they just hang out inside. Granted, this has been a hot summer, but kids should still be outside in the summer.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:34 pm

It is definitely hot out, that is for sure. Part of what got us outside too was the giant park at the end of our street. A lot of kids congregated there for baseball and park sponsored programs. Since then though, funding has been cut and the programs no longer exist unfortunately.

I think many kids are losing the art of just playing for the sake of playing.


Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter August 3, 2011 at 11:24 am

I definitely think you have something here but I wouldn’t blame it all on AC. I think modern conveniences in general are not only making kids fat but also adults fat. There are way too many ways to avoid work today. We need to get up off our butt and get moving and actually living our life- not just pushing buttons and having machines live it for us.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I couldn’t agree more. Technology has made us fat too. I think it is kind of sad how there doesn’t seem to be nearly the sense of community that I saw growing up. I am blaming that on air conditioning too.


Niki August 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

I too, think you are on to something here.
I grew up in the south, but during the time of air conditioners and I can say we didn’t come outside until late afternoon. I usually read or made something (art, sewing), but I always thought it was too hot outside in the summer, unless we went to the beach.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Whenever I go to Tennessee in the summer, I wonder how people do it. Kind of like people wonder how or why we stay in Michigan during the winter.

It is great that you had creative outlets to pass the time as a kid. That seems to be a lost art.


krantcents August 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

Air conditioning is certainly contributing to the sedentary lifestyle. There a number of other things such as larger portions at restaurants, computer games, computers, and many other distractions that isolate people in their homes.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm

We had a tv growing up like everyone else. As much as we liked tv, we would rather be outside than sitting in a stuffy house. Of course, a tv doesn’t compare to an XBox, but I wonder if less video games would be played if kids were uncomfortably hot in the house. I want a study to be conducted on this topic!


MoneyCone August 3, 2011 at 11:49 am

Either that or the XBox! 🙂


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm

And the junk food, and the lack of chores….


Car Negotiation Coach August 3, 2011 at 11:53 am

Kris, I remember when I was little and no one in the NorthEast had air condidioning too. Of course, I probably did complain about it :). I can’t live without it now!

I think another reason kids are never outside these days is all of the electronic entertainment available (games, TV, Internet, etc).


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Very true, it is a combination of things. However, if it was hot and stuffy in e house, maybe kids wouldn’t be so apt to sit inside and rot on all the electronics.

I love my air conditioning too…


Little House August 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Air conditioning, TV, XBox, and parent paranoia is making kids fat. 30 some-odd years ago, playing outside with the neighborhood kids was a given. Now, parents are scared to death to let their kids roam the streets in the neighborhoods around me. Some of this is due to saturated media scaring everyone. Crime was higher in the early ’80’s (peaking in the early ’90’s) than it is today, but that didn’t stop most of us from playing outside.

However, you may have a point that air conditioning is making us much too comfortable and in some ways lazy.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I agree with all your points Little House.

I grew up in a small town one mile north of Detroit. We could walk or ride our bikes to wherever we wanted to go. Now, we don’t have nearly as many places to shop within walking distance, and we also don’t have many kids in our neighborhood. My three kids will bike to places, but there isn’t many exciting places to go.

I know I had much more freedom growing up than my kids have now, except for my oldest who can drive. The thing is, all my friends lived pretty close by growing up, whereas my kid’s friends live miles away. When boys get together, video games seem to dominate, even on nice days outside. It is sad actually.


retirebyforty August 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I think it is contributing a bit. Whenever I visit Thailand, I’m always amaze at how skinny people are. I think the sauna like atmosphere really help with the weight problem. 🙂
BTW, I nominated you to do the 7 links project at my site today. Not sure if you have seen it on other blogs.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Hey, thanks for nominating me. I jave seen the theme on some other sites, it looks fun!

I have never traveled to another country other than Canada, so I have not really seen what you are referencing in Thailand. I do think Americans are getting many bad habits though, and convenience and technology all contribute.


Vicky August 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I find when it’s really hot, I eat less and drink more. You are right, if there was more relief outside we’d all be finding something to do there instead of sitting in the air.


Kris August 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I eat more when I am sitting around in a cool house, but my appetite slows down when I am uncomfortably hot too.

Maybe I should move into a sauna…


Squirrelers August 4, 2011 at 12:38 am

My daughter was at daycamp for the last 6 weeks, and even spend some of those super hot days outside. I wasn’t totally comfortable with that decision, but that’s direction we went in:)

Anyway, she got quite tan but survived it. Actually, it was good for her in retrospect as she spent a lot of time swimming and getting exercise. That’s important for kids, and better for their bodies than sitting at home playing video games or watching TV, eating junk food, etc. I think the issue today isn’t air conditioning, but the ploriferation of video games and other instant gratification (tv shows/movies on demand, things of that nature). That, plus a little bit softer parenting than in prior years as well as more junk food available, is what I think has done it. It’s a combination of all those factors in my non-expert view:) I say all this being a bit of a soft parent myself with my daughter.


Kris August 4, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I do think it is a combination of a lot of factors as to why our nation is getting so fat. However, I know you could not have paid me to stay inside my roasting hot house when all the kids were outside playing, no matter how hot (or cold) it was outside.

My kids are inside a lot more than I was, but they do play a lot of sports and get outside more than more kids. I think it is great that your daughter was so active during camp. Thing about what we survived through!


First Gen American August 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I think this theory is a much better one than my “is your big house making you fat” theory. My son is at camp every day in the summer with no AC. The only way to cool off is to go swim in the pool or lake, and swim he does…every single day. I know at daycare for my younger son on really hot days, the kids stay indoors, same thing with pre-school. I think people worry about heat exhaustion in the really little kids, but I think the older ones can hack it just fine.


Kris August 4, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I thought your big house theory was great!

That is so good your kiddo is getting outside so much. This summer has been a bummer for sure, but healthy kids should be pretty resilient. I guess the house is just too attractive a place to be for many.


David August 24, 2011 at 4:32 am

There are three main issues that are leading to obesity in kids:

1)Access to junk food and high calorie content food – these types of food were rare when my generation was growing up and were only available on special occasions.

2) Fear of leaving our children unattended. Kids today do not have the freedom we had. I was always out of the house – my parents had no way of contacting me – and they only worried when I didnt come home for dinner.

3) Home Comforts – airconditioning is a small part of this – but home entertainment and gadget convienince – internet, cable, satelite etc – these simply did not exist when we were younger – the home has become much more kid attractive and a more interesting and diverse area than it ever was when we were younger.

If anything airconditioning may help boost energy consumption in the body by forcing the body to increase its temperature due to the cooler enviroment. If you are forced to be indoors at least it should be in a cold enviroment rather than a hot one 🙂


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