Warmer office temperatures could lower food intake, pilot study finds

In a sedentary office environment, participants working in 78° to 80°F temperatures consumed nearly 90 fewer calories than those in a cooler environment.

office tempsUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have found preliminary evidence of effects of thermal environment on food intake.

Molly C. Bernhard, MPH, pre-doctoral fellow in the Nutrition Obesity Research Center and pre-doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, hypothesized that food intake would decrease in young adults exposed to temperatures above normal room temperatures (68° to 72°F) in a sedentary office environment. To test this, 20 participants were randomized to perform routine office work over a two-hour period either in a room kept at normal building temperature of 19° to 20°C (66° to 68°F) or above 26° to 27°C (78° to 80°F). Thermal images were taken throughout to estimate heat dissipation.

After controlling for variables such as gender and BMI, Bernhard and colleagues found for every 1 degree Celsius increase in peripheral temperature — suggesting increased heat dissipation — participants ate 85.9 kcal less.

“This suggests that decreased food intake in the experimental (warmer) environment is potentially mediated through thermoregulatory mechanisms,” Bernhard explained.

“Warm Ambient Temperature Decreases Food Intake in a Simulated Office Setting: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial” is published online in Frontiers in Nutrition. Co-investigators are Julia M. Gohlke, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences; Peng Li, Ph.D., statistician in the Office of Energetics; and David B. Allison, Ph.D., distinguished professor and director of the NORC and Office of Energetics.

The investigators are currently following up on this work by examining the effects of a longer exposure time on food intake using a cross-over randomized control trial study design.