Sunday, June 14, 2009

obesity and air conditioning

One of my students posting something today that caused the proverbial light bulb to go on over my head. She said that one reason kids are obese is because in the summer time no one wants to go out in the heat.

It dawned on me -- when I was a child 50 years ago, air conditioning was extraordinarily rare in homes. Only the most affluent had air conditioning. Even fans, which were made of metal and relatively more expensive were not within the reach of many people.

This was of little consequence in the San Francisco Bay Area community where I grew up with its mild climate. But in much of the U.S., sweltering summer heat and humidity forced people, and especially children, out of doors, to seek summer breezes and shade and cooling sources of water. I spent part of many childhood summers in Virginia and a vivid part of those childhood memories is smothering damp heat, and the various ways we attempted to stay cool, with cool drinks and splashing in water (lawn sprinklers, wading pools, creeks and streams). Riding bicycles, roller skating, even running around in the shade of the back yard was cooler than sitting still inside.

The heat and humidity affected how we cooked and ate. No one wanted to heat up the house with the oven -- which can easily be avoided these days by using your microwave. One also felt less like eating a heavy meal on the hottest days.

Makes me wonder to what extent the prevalence of air conditioning (and microwaves) in American homes has helped turn us into a nation of overweight couch potatoes, computer and video junkies. Of course, no one is taking my air conditioner except from my hot dead hands (to paraphrase Charlton Heston).


Deborah Godin said...

LOL - "hot dead hands" Me, too, Sistah.

Quiet Paths said...

We use the AC only about 4 weeks out of the year. Last year we had it on for maybe two days total. I can't stand it actually because I feel eventually like I'm not getting any fresh air. People skip for AC to AC and avoid being outside it's true. They use it too much when opening a window might do just as well, but I realize in the south it is a totally different case. Good thoughts.

sgreerpitt said...

the funny thing, Christine, is that we actually have two small window air conditioners, one that my husband uses very sparingly in his study so that the computer doesn't melt down on the hottest summer afternoons, and one in the kitchen/family room area that likewise only kicks on in the late afternoon. Most of the time, including at night for sleeping, we use fans. I'm like you, I feel boxed in and claustrophobic without windows open and the ability to hear all the summer sounds of nature.