Fit City Success: Study links obesity with heat, humidity

Published on Saturday, 12 July 2014 17:50 - Written by Dana Hughey dhughey@cbs19.tv

If you struggle in the summer with exercising because the heat and humidity are just too much, you're not alone. A study from The University of Texas at Austin is linking obesity to temperature and humidity.

When researchers crunched the numbers from every county in the U.S., they found adults who live in counties where it's really hot and humid are less physically active and subsequently more obese. Just the thought of jogging outside, almost makes us break a sweat in the July heat. That's why researchers say strategy is important for staying active in the summer, but it is possible.

East Texas summers aren't just hot, they can be dangerous, especially if you're working out in the heat of the day.

"The hottest part of the day is about 4 to 6 p.m., and it is just not an attractive part of the day to exercise,” said Paul von Hippel, assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “So a lot of people cut it out, and so you have to think about what you are going to do.”

Will you wake up early to run outside or will you switch to a cooler activity, such as swimming outdoors?

Von Hippel said there are other influences on obesity such as demographics, sprawl, restaurants and parks. The study controlled for all of that, but summer heat and humidity still mattered.

"In a place that is hot and muggy in the summer, you have to consider whether there is shade available, whether there is water nearby, so a place like Tyler State Park, for example, where you have a nice shady forest and a little pond, will be a great example of a place accessible to the public and allows people to be active on a hot summer day," von Hippel said.

"You can't tell it is hot. It has been so windy and nice," Robin Pilette said.

Ms. Pilette brought her boys out to Tyler State Park for some swimming, hiking and outdoor fun.

"As long as they are outside, they are happy. They need to be out and moving, so they are not stuck inside playing videos and eating," Ms. Pilette said.

Another way to stay cool is to burn some calories and have some fun is paddle-boating at Tyler State Park.

The American Heritage girls are tapping into a new way to keep moving and enjoy Tyler State Park's trails.

"We started out this morning about 8:30 a.m. geocaching,” Angelia Malloy said.

“It is a way to get girls to hike with a purpose. You tell them they are going on a treasure hunt than just hiking and they will hike for hours without realizing they are hiking."

Ms. Malloy has an app on her phone that guides them.

"You find the geocache, some just have a log where you sign your name, but most what gets the kids hooked is they have a treasure box," she said.

A 3-mile hike to find a geocache turns into a great workout.

Park Superintendent Paul Harris said you can hike or bike the trails.

"They are very shaded,” Harris said. “None of our trail system has any open canopy. They are covered in shade. It helps keep you cooler.”

Researchers at UT Austin hope county and city developers and planners will take the heat and humidity into consideration to encourage more physical activity.

It's hard to imagine right now, but researchers also found people were less active and more obese in places where winters are especially cold, cloudy and dark. The new study on heat and humidity appears in the American Journal of Public Health.