Obesity does not increase external mechanical work per kilogram body mass during walking

J Biomech. 2009 Oct 16;42(14):2273-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2009.06.046. Epub 2009 Jul 30.


Walking is the most common type of physical activity prescribed for the treatment of obesity. The net metabolic rate during level walking (W/kg) is approximately 10% greater in obese vs. normal weight adults. External mechanical work (W(ext)) is one of the primary determinants of the metabolic cost of walking, but the effects of obesity on W(ext) have not been clearly established. The purpose of this study was to compare W(ext) between obese and normal weight adults across a range of walking speeds. We hypothesized that W(ext) (J/step) would be greater in obese adults but W(ext) normalized to body mass would be similar in obese and normal weight adults. We collected right leg three-dimensional ground reaction forces (GRF) while twenty adults (10 obese, BMI=35.6 kg/m(2) and 10 normal weight, BMI=22.1 kg/m(2)) walked on a level, dual-belt force measuring treadmill at six speeds (0.50-1.75 m/s). We used the individual limb method (ILM) to calculate external work done on the center of mass. Absolute W(ext) (J/step) was greater in obese vs. normal weight adults at each walking speed, but relative W(ext) (J/step/kg) was similar between the groups. Step frequencies were not different. These results suggest that W(ext) is not responsible for the greater metabolic cost of walking (W/kg) in moderately obese adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Computer Simulation
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Energy Transfer*
  • Female
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Walking*