Purpose of review: Obesity is a common secondary complication of chronic spinal cord injury and is associated with adverse metabolic sequelae. Because positive energy balance is the fundamental cause of obesity, we herein review the current knowledge pertaining to total daily energy expenditure, including resting metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food, and physical activity, in the spinal cord injury population.
Recent findings: Commonly used equations to predict resting metabolic rate overestimate measured requirements in chronic spinal cord injury by 5-32%. Measured resting metabolic rate is 14-27% lower in persons with spinal cord injury versus those without, due to decreased fat-free mass and sympathetic nervous system activity in this population. However, preliminary evidence suggests that neither the metabolic activity of the fat-free body, nor the obligatory phase of the thermic effect of food is different between those with and without injury. Physical activity levels, especially in those with tetraplegia and complete lesions, are lower than recommended or lower than those of able-bodied persons.
Summary: New equations to predict resting metabolic rate should be validated and prospectively tested in a large sample of men and women with complete and incomplete paraplegia and tetraplegia. Whether the facultative phase of the thermic effect of food is different between those with and without SCI remains to be elucidated. Persons with chronic spinal cord injury, and perhaps those with tetraplegia and complete lesions especially, should be encouraged to engage in increased frequency, intensity and/or duration of physical activity. Future research efforts should explore the effects of level and completeness of neurological lesion on resting metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, and physical activity.