High energy expenditure masks low physical activity in obesity

Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jul;37(7):1006-11. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.172. Epub 2012 Oct 23.


Objective: To investigate energy expenditure in lean and obese individuals, focusing particularly on physical activity and severely obese individuals.

Design: Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) was assessed using doubly labeled water, resting metabolic rate (RMR) by indirect calorimetry, activity energy expenditure (AEE) by difference and time spent in physical activity by multisensor activity monitors.

Subjects: In all, 177 lean, Class I and severely obese individuals (age 31-56 years, body mass index 20-64 kg m(-2)) were analyzed.

Results: All components of energy expenditure were elevated in obese individuals. For example, TDEE was 2404±95 kcal per day in lean and 3244±48 kcal per day in Class III obese individuals. After appropriate adjustment, RMR was similar in all groups. Analysis of AEE by body weight and obesity class indicated a lower AEE in obese individuals. Confirming lower physical activity, obese individuals spent less time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (2.7±1.3, 1.8±0.6, 2.0±1.4 and 1.2±1.0 h per day in lean, Class I, Class II and Class III individuals) and more time in sedentary behaviors.

Conclusions: There was no indication of metabolic efficiency in even the severely obese, as adjusted RMR was similar across all groups. The higher AEE observed in the obese is consistent with a higher cost of activities due to higher body weight. However, the magnitude of the higher AEE (20-25% higher in obese individuals) is lower than expected (weight approximately 100% higher in Class III individuals). Confirming a lower volume of physical activity in the obese, the total time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and average daily metabolic equivalent of task level were lower with increasing obesity. These findings demonstrate that high body weight in obese individuals leads to a high TDEE and AEE, which masks the fact that they are less physically active, which can be influenced by duration or intensity of activity, than in lean individuals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Calorimetry, Indirect
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity, Morbid / epidemiology
  • Obesity, Morbid / metabolism*
  • Obesity, Morbid / physiopathology
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Thinness / epidemiology
  • Thinness / metabolism*
  • Thinness / physiopathology
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology