Purpose: This study tested the hypothesis that the increase in walking economy (i.e., decrease in net metabolic rate per kilogram) after weight loss in obese adolescents is induced by a lower metabolic rate required to support the lower body weight and maintain balance during walking.
Methods: Sixteen obese adolescent boys and girls were tested before and after a weight reduction program. Body composition and oxygen uptake while standing and walking at four preset speeds (0.75, 1, 1.25, and 1.5 m·s⁻¹) and at the preferred speed were quantified. Net metabolic rate and gross metabolic cost of walking-versus-speed relationships were determined. A three-compartment model was used to distinguish the respective parts of the metabolic rate associated with standing (compartment 1), maintaining balance and supporting body weight during walking (compartment 2), and muscle contractions required to move the center of mass and limbs (compartment 3).
Results: Standing metabolic rate per kilogram (compartment 1) significantly increased after weight loss, whereas net metabolic rate per kilogram during walking decreased by 9% on average across speeds. Consequently, the gross metabolic cost of walking per unit of distance-versus-speed relationship and hence preferred walking speeds did not change with weight loss. Compartment 2 of the model was significantly lower after weight loss, whereas compartment 3 did not change.
Conclusions: The model showed that the improvement in walking economy after weight loss in obese adolescents was likely related to the lower metabolic rate of the isometric muscular contractions required to support the lower body weight and maintain balance during walking. Contrastingly, the part of the total metabolic rate associated with muscle contractions required to move the center of mass and limbs did not seem to be related to the improvement in walking economy in weight-reduced individuals.