How Does Altitude Affect Your Weight?

Recent study says higher altitudes curb hunger, reduce risk of obesity

Flickr/Eole Wind

While location might not be everything when it comes to health and fitness, research shows that where you live certainly plays a role. It’s clear when you look at America’s fittest cities that local resources, infrastructure and even businesses in the area all play a role in the wellbeing of the population. The same can be said for America’s least fit cities, whose residents struggle with obesity most often because of high poverty rates and local tradition that places so much importance on food.

Regional factors affecting the health of the population is expected, but recent research suggests another, more subtle factor may be helping to determine weight in cities all over the world. That factor is altitude.

According to a study published last week in the Journal PLoS One, U.S. service members were more likely to maintain healthier weights when stationed at higher altitudes than those located closer to sea level.

Nearly 100,000 active members of the U.S. Army and Air Force were tracked for seven years and researchers reviewed data on their health and living locations. The study ultimately found that overweight individuals were 41 percent less likely to gain weight (which would then classify them as clinically obese) when they were stationed at higher locations.

The scientific explanation behind it is pretty simple. At higher elevations, the air is thinner and you aren’t able to inhale as much oxygen. With less oxygen coming in, your body overcompensates, producing more red blood cells. Those extra red blood cells are thought to produce more hormones which help control hunger. You tend to weigh less, when your body isn’t telling you to eat as often.

This is not the first study involving weight control and altitude. Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2013 concluded that, on average, those living at the lowest altitudes had the highest BMIs.

You can find your city’s altitude here, to see how it stacks up. According to Women’s Health the ideal altitude for weight management is 9,843 feet above sea level.


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