Ethnicity, Energy Expenditure and Obesity: Are the Observed black/white Differences Meaningful?

Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2007 Oct;14(5):370-3. doi: 10.1097/MED.0b013e3282c48a7c.


Purpose of review: Recent studies have suggested that black individuals have lower energy expenditure than whites. Many investigators hypothesized that this is why black women experience higher rates of obesity than white women. These findings initiated much research on race as a primary biological determinant of obesity and energy expenditure as a potential pathway. Race is a difficult construct to use in biomedical research.

Recent findings: Recent findings have included: an explanation for the lower resting energy expenditure observed among black adults, data showing that relative resting energy expenditure may not be a significant predictor of weight change in African-origin populations, and inconsistent data on the role of activity energy expenditure as a determinant of children's weight change.

Summary: The data suggest that black individuals have lower resting energy expenditure and possibly activity energy expenditure than white individuals. The lower resting energy expenditure is probably caused by a smaller mass of high metabolically active organs. It is unlikely that increased weight gain is associated with lower resting energy expenditure or activity among blacks, because no association has been found within populations. Clinically, it is important to focus on personal modifiable risk factors, e.g., energy intake and physical activity levels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Basal Metabolism / genetics
  • Bias
  • Body Composition / genetics
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Energy Intake / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism* / genetics
  • European Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style / ethnology
  • Male
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Organ Size / genetics
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Sex Factors
  • United States