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The Freezing A/C in Your Office Is Making You Eat More

In addition to making you disgruntled, the igloo-like temperature of your office is causing you to reach for more snacks and eat more calories.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US
August 7, 2015, 5:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Steven DePolo

If you're a citizen of virtually anywhere in the US besides the Pacific Northwest, you're likely subject to the cruel paradox of freezing winters, inconsistent central heating, boiling summers, and overzealous air conditioning. It somehow takes offices three months to properly calibrate the internal office temperature in the winter, only succeeding in March when the suffering has already peaked, and then summer is a constant battle between pitstains and "office blankets."

On top of that, you find yourself drinking herbal tea and instant miso soup packets in July because you're struggling to calibrate your bodily temperature between the 87-degree heat outside and the 59-degree igloo you're encased in upon arriving at work.

READ: Food Hacking at the Office

It's no secret that America's air conditioning obsession is excessive, even out of control. (Europeans, for instance, think we're fragile idiots.) But in addition to making us grumpier and less productive, freezing office environments could actually be making us eat more, too.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently released the results of a study in Frontiers in Nutrition wherein they observed 20 young office workers in rooms that were either within the standard temperature range (68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher-than-average temperatures (78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). For two hours, the participants were asked to perform regular job stuff. You know, jamming the copy machine, making inane spreadsheets, hoarding Sharpies, flirting with the interns. Researchers also incorporated thermal imaging to observe temperature changes within the environments.

Anyhow, researchers found that for every temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius, the office workers ate 85.9 fewer calories. That can add up to a big difference—more than a single granola bar from the office snack bar—for even mild temperature fluctuations. A little chilly? You might find yourself craving a vanilla latte that would never appeal to you if you were feeling toasty. (The study also accounted for factors such as gender and body mass index.)

Although the sample size was small, researchers are hoping to expand upon this issue with a larger study in the future.

So what does this mean for you, corporate slave? Well, a couple of things. For one, if you find yourself shivering as you read this from your swivel chair, you might want to consider a sweater or a standing desk to counteract the self-fattening urges that your office tundra could be invoking.

And if you find yourself in control of the thermostat, be aware that cranking things up a few degrees might just lengthen the time between your trips to the vending machine.