Health

Do people put on weight in the winter and if so why? | Mona Chalabi


I have spent this morning checking my fridge as frequently as a spurned lover checking their phone. I am similarly disappointed at what I find.

Condiments and beer are not going to satisfy my hunger. At first, I don’t get it. I’m not due for my period, not feeling particularly emotional … but I am cold. (My landlord keeps the radiators miserably low.) And it turns out temperature has a big role in affecting our appetites.

According to Dr Andrew Higginson from the University of Exeter, this is an evolutionary response: “Storing fat is an insurance against the risk of failing to find food, which for pre-industrial humans was most likely in winter.”

A study in Massachusetts tested this theory in 2006 when 593 research participants were followed for a one-year period. Not only did people eat more in the fall compared spring (on average an extra 86 calories per day), but they also did less physical exercise when the temperature fell. As a result, body weight also peaked in winter months, though the researchers added: “Greater seasonal variation was observed in subjects who were male, middle-aged, non-white, and less educated.” Similar results were found in Brazil and the Netherlands.

As I researched this, studies about humans mingled with studies about animals in my search results, and I couldn’t help but click. The chart for domesticated cats (whose lives were followed for three years) is incredibly similar to the chart for people. Each year, the temperature rises along with the average hours of daylight and the cats’ food intake drops. Then the temperature falls, there are fewer minutes of sun each day and the cats eat an extra 10g per day.

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Still, when I Google the words “health” and “winter weight gain”, I’m inundated with articles telling me what to do about something I’ve just learned is probably deep in my evolutionary makeup. Meh. I’m just going to keep my fridge stocked till summer gets here.



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