UT study finds obesity rates are higher in hotter parts of the U.S.


A University of Texas study finds people are less active in hotter and more humid areas of the country.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of LBJ School of Public Affairs

On average, everyone exercises less when the weather is hot and humid, regardless of other demographic factors, according to a study from the University’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

The study found that people are least active and most obese in counties where the summers are hot and humid, primarily in the Southeast. People are the most active and least obese in the Mountain West region, where summers are cool and dry.

Sociology professor Paul von Hippel, lead author of the study, said a city providing recreational opportunities for citizens needs to think about what people are going to be willing to do in the summer heat.

“One thing that’s really nice in Austin is the hike and bike trail at Town Lake, because it’s shaded, near water, and in a densely populated area,” von Hippel said. “It’s basically a great way for thousands of people to be active on a hot summer day.”

The rate of obesity in Travis County is lower than the national average. In 2011, 29.3 percent of men and 33.5 percent of women were obese, compared respectively to 37 percent and 39 percent nationally, according to a Population Health Metrics study. Von Hippel said this could be because Travis County has advantages such as high income, high education and nice winter weather.

Poverty is also a major predictor for obesity everywhere in the U.S., according to von Hippel.

“One of the reasons for that is access to recreational facilities,” von Hippel said. “That’s why I think it’s important to have free public pools open in the early morning as well, not just private pools.”

Julie Drake, senior program coordinator for the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University, said some gyms, including UT RecSports and Austin YMCA, offer temporary memberships for people who want to try swimming or working out indoors during the summer.

“You could sign up for a three-month membership during the hot months,” Drake said. “They also do a reduced fee application where they’re willing to work with people on reduced incomes.”

Mason Wheeless, a personal running coach and owner at RTI Fitness in Austin, recommended working out in the early morning before it gets hot. He said that even as an experienced runner, he finds it difficult to run during the summer.

“I went out yesterday at 3:00 in the afternoon, like an idiot, because that was the only time that would work with my schedule,” Wheeless said. “It was 15 miles and it hurt more than any 22 mile in quite awhile — my legs were cramping up all night after that.”

As Texas gets into the hotter months, von Hippel said people need to think about their strategy to stay active during the summer.

“The weather is not going to accommodate us, so we need to accommodate ourselves to the weather,” von Hippel said.