Obesity is an extremely prevalent condition that is associated with a range of deleterious health effects. While traditionally considered a disorder primarily of energy intake, accumulating evidence underscores the importance of energy expenditure in the development and treatment of obesity. As the most variable component of energy expenditure, physical activity can influence the development of obesity as well as success in achieving both initial and long term weight loss. Among the types of exercise-related physiological and behavioural factors most likely to be involved in the development of obesity are reductions in the amount of physical activity actually performed, differences in the effect of physical activity on diet-induced thermogenesis, and modeling of deleterious dietary and exercise patterns on the part of the family and other facets of the environment. In contrast, there is relatively little evidence supporting the common belief that obese individuals have a significantly greater energy intake than nonobese individuals. With respect to weight reduction in the already obese, while increased physical activity levels often augment caloric restriction programmes in aiding initial weight loss, evidence suggests that physical activity may be particularly important in helping to sustain initial losses through increased total energy output, preservation of lean body mass, and changes in substrate utilisation. The psychological benefits received from regular participation in a physical activity programme may serve as an additional impetus for engaging in such activities over the long run. Developing programmes to aid in long term adherence to physical activity regimens remains the most critical challenge. Recent results suggest the utility of regular, brief contacts in aiding sustained physical activity participation in individuals attempting to control their weight.