Cold-induced adaptive thermogenesis in lean and obese

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jun;18(6):1092-9. doi: 10.1038/oby.2010.74. Epub 2010 Apr 1.


On entering a cold environment, people react by increasing insulation and energy expenditure (EE). However, large interindividual differences exist in the relative contribution of each mechanism. Short-term studies revealed that obese subjects increase EE (i.e., adaptive thermogenesis) less than lean subjects, which might have implications for the predisposition to obesity. In this study, we validate the differences in adaptive thermogenesis between lean and obese upon midterm mild cold exposure. Therefore, 10 lean and 10 obese subjects were exposed for 48 h to mild cold (16 degrees C) in a respiration chamber. The preceding 36 h they stayed in the same chamber at a neutral temperature (22 degrees C) for the baseline measurements. EE, physical activity, skin temperature, and core temperature have been measured for the last 24 h of both parts. Mean daytime EE increased significantly in the lean subjects (P < 0.01), but not in the obese. Physical activity decreased significantly in the lean (P < 0.01) and the obese (P < 0.001) subjects. The change in EE was related to the change in physical activity in both groups (respectively R(2) = 0.673, P < 0.01 and R(2) = 0.454, P < 0.05). Upon mild cold exposure, lean subjects decreased proximal skin temperature less, but distal skin temperature more than obese. In conclusion, the interindividual differences in cold-induced thermogenesis were related to changes in physical activity in both lean and obese, pointing at the existence of individual variation in physical activity to compensate for cold-induced thermogenesis. Furthermore, although a large part of the lean subjects counteracted the cold by increasing EE, most obese subjects changed temperature distribution, and therefore, increased insulation.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*
  • Thinness / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult