Study on role of temperature changes could lead to obesity treatment

Published 30 June 2011

obseity-temperature-bloggUNE is seeking participants for a new study which aims to improve our understanding of the role played by ambient and body temperature in problems such as obesity and depressed mood.

Coordinated by Emma van’t Hoenderdal, an honours student in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, the project will look at the complex relationships between low and high body weight, body temperature, ambient temperature, physical activity/exercise, and mood.

Ms van’t Hoenderdal says that a better understanding of these factors may lead to new approaches in the treatment of obesity – for example, using body cooling or cooling of the home to potentially accelerate weight loss via increased physical activity.

She said the study is prompted by recent large increases in the incidences of overweight/obesity and recent advances in our understanding of low-weight eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. For example, anorexia nervosa is now regarded as a secondary response to weight loss which is complicated by mood changes and reduced body temperature, and treated by ambient or body warming, rather than being a primary psychiatric disorder.

This knowledge has recently prompted eating disorders experts to ponder whether body-cooling strategies, or strategies which alter thermogenesis (i.e. energy expenditure above the metabolic rate at rest) may promote weight loss in obese people. However, there is very limited available research on this topic.

Another major factor impacting on body weight is physical activity, such as leisure activities, house and yard work, and also spontaneous physical activity such as foot tapping. In addition, body weight and ambient and body temperature are all linked to changes in mood. For example, exercise is known to rapidly increase body temperature and improve mood, and high and low ambient and body temperature are linked to a worsening of mood. Thus, in this study, Emma is examining the relationships between these interlinked factors.

Ms van’t Hoenderdal said she is collecting data for the study through a short online questionnaire, which will take about 15-20 minutes to complete. A follow-up questionnaire of the same length will then be completed one month later. In this questionnaire, participants will be asked to record their weight, ambient (i.e. in the house) temperature and body temperature, mood and physical activity levels, on two test days, one month apart. In addition, some local participants will receive a pedometer to wear on the two test days. Participants must be 18 years of age or older, and have access to a thermometer and weighing scales to participate in this study.

Those interested in participating in the study are invited to visit the following link to the questionnaire:

Further information: Dr Rhonda Brown, School of Behavioural, Cognitive & Social Sciences. Ph: (02) 6773 2410.