A Partial Explanation of the Obesity Epidemic

This is a new conclusion to some ongoing research, and I think it could turn out to be extremely important!

Around 7 years ago, I was curious about the "mechanical efficiency of human beings" and I discovered that the ONLY research that seemed to have ever been done about it was around 1915, when factory owners did analyses on male workers in order to find just how hard they could work them for greatest profits! So I spent quite a while researching everything necessary, which resulted on my web-page on "Human Efficiency".

Eventually that page resulted in several others, mostly based on physical and chemical processes related to living, like in the body radiating heat, etc. There were some "potential weight loss" concepts that arose, such as "sleeping with just a sheet instead of heavy covers".

And then last year, the "breathing" involvement of eating food and processing it and either gaining or losing weight.

The newest concept is related to that, an offshoot.

I had proven that if a person breathes just 1% slower or 1% shallower, the 17,000 breaths exhaled each day can only carry away 99% as many carbon atoms from the food and bodyfat of the body, and so the person WILL slowly gain weight. One percent is very tiny and not obviously noticeable.

OK. Here it is: The Earth's atmosphere is primarily Nitrogen and Oxygen, with around 20.9% being oxygen. There is also carbon dioxide, which averages about 0.04% in the atmosphere.

But WE have altered that! Inside of a winter heated house, it is common that the CO2 rises to around TEN TIMES that much carbon dioxide! In other words, 0.4%. The EFFECTS of that increase in CO2 are many, but one is that the percentage of oxygen is slightly reduced, down from 20.9% to maybe 20.6%.

What has dawned on me is that the 17,000 incoming breaths each day (in such heated houses during winter) have LESS OXYGEN in each of them, and so there are less atoms which can chemically react with carbon atoms to be able to exhale CO2. By nearly 2% as much! In other words, with NORMAL breathing, which WOULD HAVE exhaled sufficient CO2 to keep body weight and bodyfat constant, there is now a change where both weight and bodyfat WILL increase, slowly and methodically.

If you want the math to support those statements, here it is! In an average day, you likely EAT roughly one pound of food, which contains around 182 grams of carbon atoms in it. In each of your 17,000 exhaled breaths, there was around 0.0110 gram of elemental carbon atoms, which totals around 182 grams of carbon that you dispose of each day!

This BALANCE is what keeps your weight relatively constant, as noted in several other related web-pages here.

But now consider the situation in that house where carbon dioxide concentration is around 4,000 ppmv, ten times the natural outdoor concentration. (This increase occurs nearly entirely because modern houses are build to be so airtight! The carbon dioxide that you and the others of your family exhale are not really allowed to escape from your house. In addition, a gas kitchen range and oven, and any other fossil fuel burning appliances all add carbon dioxide as well to the air inside the house.)

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Therefore, when you INHALE inside that house, you actually inhale a substantial amount of carbon dioxide, which your body does not need and cannot use! But that replaces some of the oxygen which you WOULD HAVE inhaled! Instead of inhaling 0.1200 grams of oxygen in each breath, you may only inhale 0.1176 grams instead (just two per cent less). So your lungs have less oxygen to use to process the carbon into carbon dioxide, so you can only EXHALE around 2% less carbon atoms in each breath. Instead of exhaling 0.0110 grams of carbon atoms in each breath, you now only exhale 2% less or 0.0108 gram per exhaled breath.

Following this?

Your body still will breath the 17,000 times that it learned it needed to do during your life. But now the total carbon exhaled is about 2% less than the 182 grams , or only 180 grams each day.

Big deal???

Well, yeah, it is!

You still EAT the food with the 182 grams of carbon in it each day, but you only get rid of 180 grams of carbon atoms each day. This means you necessarily GAIN 2 grams of carbon atoms every day!

It is certainly true that you are NOT in your house all day every day, but you are certainly there for eight hours of sleep and probably six more hours each day. And during a winter of eight months when you have the windows closed, 240 days, we are therefore talking about 240 * 2 * (8 + 6)/24 or about 350 grams of carbon atoms being added to your body each year. As bodyfat molecules, that is about one added pound per year. After twenty years of that, you have an extra 20 pounds of bodyfat in you!

And all that is totally unnoticed, and it is due to the fact that we live in modern, very-tight houses, in order to reduce the cost and usage of fossil fuels for heating!

I believe the same effect should occur "in urban cities" but the CO2 increase is not as great as in a closed winter house, although it is all 12 months each year.

This seems to suggest that "people in cities should be getting more obese than people in rural areas", and also that "people where winter heating of homes is important should also have obesity increasing rapidly where people in old ramshackled houses should not be!"

I cannot find that anyone has ever done adequate data collection regarding these matters, so I can neither prove nor disprove this right no. "City air quality" records should also include percentage of oxygen, but no one seems to measure or record it! Ditto for inside of houses, except for really extreme situations. And also, I have not been able to find any data regarding WHERE obesity is increasing fastest, to the accuracy that I would need.

Still, an interesting idea, that two very simple and universal facts of modern life, "city life" and "winter warming of homes", might be VERY major causes of obesity that no one seems to be able to pin down!


There are many related issues related to this subject, which are thoroughly discussed in other linked pages in this Domain. Different sorts of Diets are analyzed. Different approaches to exercise are discussed (where the primary weight-loss effect happens to just be that you breathe deeper and faster during exercise, and therefore can lose actual bodyfat and weight, but at a surprisingly slow rate). Even highly advertised weight-loss schemes which are based on tablets or foods which include diuretics (materials which cause you to urinate more often than normal, to get rid of WATER weight in your body and cause your bathroom scale to impress you for a while).

Sadly, actual weight loss, or more correctly, bodyfat loss, is entirely dependent on only two things, your breathing patterns and how much carbon is in the food that you eat (and digest). This last phrase was added because you CAN eat a lot of 'Fiber', which happens to be types of organic materials which our bodies cannot digest, and NO carbon then enters your actual body. (It all passes right through!) Unfortunately, since Fiber is not digested at all, there is NO nutritional value in it. It might make you FEEL full, but your body gets none of the needed minerals and proteins that it needs for good health. But that approach DOES force your body to consume bodyfat in order to survive, so you CAN lose weight, although potentially in a dangerous manner.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in August 2010. Related presentations (linked below) have been provided during the previous five years.


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A Partial Explanation of the Obesity Epidemic


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in August 2010.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago