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Is Your Air Conditioner Making You Fat?

Curt Pickens

We've got a love/hate relationship with our air-conditioning units: On the one hand, they help us maintain our will to live during the 90℉ days of New York summer, and heck, we can't really sleep without white noise, anyway. On the other hand, they drive our electric bills through the roof and leave us with sore throats and nosebleeds when we forget to clean the filter. (Not to mention the sketchy water that drips on our hair, clothes, and/or falafels from the units above anytime we walk too close to a building. Blech.)

One author, Stan Cox, decided to explore the ins and outs of AC — his book, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World, came out in May, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune ran a fascinating Q&A with him yesterday that has us considering taking our AC units right out of our windows. (Well, almost.) A few highlights:

  • The obvious: They're terrible for the environment. Even though most states don't use AC year-round, it accounts for a whopping 20 percent of total electricity used in American homes.
  • Using AC actually decreases our tolerance for heat. So the more time you spend inside, the more you will hate going outside later.
  • The proliferation of AC has helped increase the populations of the hotter states in the South and West. Cox points out that if we'd had the same population distribution in 2000 that we did in 1960, Al Gore would have won the election. (Though, to be fair, he sort of did, kinda. Just sayin'. But we digress.)
  • AC may be a contributing factor to the obesity crisis, since we eat more when we're cold, and feeling so comfy means we're burning fewer calories.

    We've got a bone to pick with that last point, since some experts suggest that we burn more calories when we're cold because our bodies have to use energy to warm up. But we definitely believe that we're less likely to get outside and be active when it's hot and there's AC at home — as evidenced by the many Sunday afternoons this summer we've spent huddled in front of our units.

    While it may be unrealistic to nix the AC completely, we'll try to keep the temperature higher and spend more time outdoors, even if it means an extra shower before bed.

    Tell Marie Claire: Got any eco-friendly keep-cool tips? Share yours in the Comments section below!

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