Measurement of energy expenditure

Public Health Nutr. 2005 Oct;8(7A):1123-32. doi: 10.1079/phn2005800.


Measurement of energy expenditure in humans is required to assess metabolic needs, fuel utilisation, and the relative thermic effect of different food, drink, drug and emotional components. Indirect and direct calorimetric and non-calorimetric methods for measuring energy expenditure are reviewed, and their relative value for measurement in the laboratory and field settings is assessed. Where high accuracy is required and sufficient resources are available, an open-circuit indirect calorimeter can be used. Open-circuit indirect calorimeters can employ a mask, hood, canopy or room/chamber for collection of expired air. For short-term measurements, mask, hood or canopy systems suffice. Chamber-based systems are more accurate for the long-term measurement of specified activity patterns but behaviour constraints mean they do not reflect real life. Where resources are limited and/or optimum precision can be sacrificed, flexible total collection systems and non-calorimetric methods are potentially useful if the limitations of these methods are appreciated. The use of the stable isotope technique, doubly labelled water, enables total daily energy expenditure to be measured accurately in free-living subjects. The factorial method for combining activity logs and data on the energy costs of activities can also provide detailed information on free-living subjects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Basal Metabolism / physiology*
  • Calorimetry
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Indicator Dilution Techniques
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thermogenesis