Longitudinal changes in the physical activity of adolescents with anorexia nervosa and their influence on body composition and leptin serum levels after recovery

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 21;8(10):e78251. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078251. eCollection 2013.


Objective: Patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) are often observed to have high levels of physical activity, which do not necessarily diminish after a successful therapy. Previous studies have shown that body fat tissue recovery in these patients is associated with a disproportional restoration of the adipocyte hormone, leptin. Therefore, we wondered whether the individual variation in physical activity in AN patients prior to treatment may be related to body fat percentage and plasma leptin level outcome.

Method: Body fat percentage, leptin serum, and physical activity levels (accelerometer) were measured in adolescents with an (n=37, age 13 to 17.5 years) at initial assessment, at the end of study participation (median 12 months), and at one-year follow-up.

Results: Accelerometer data were used to split the patients in two groups: those with low (n=26) and those with high levels of physical activity (HLPA, n=11). These groups did not differ in terms of age, IQ, presence of menses, BMI and season of admission. The HLPA group was characterized by a longer total duration of illness. Physical activity levels during therapy decreased for the group with initially HLPA and increased for the group with low levels of physical activity (to comparable levels). Physical activity remained stable after one year. The increase in body fat percentage and leptin levels were dependent on the recovery status; however, recovered patients with initially HLPA had significantly higher fat mass during the follow-up.

Discussion: HLPA, an important modulator of AN progression in adolescents, can be successfully diminished by therapeutic intervention. Among recovered patients, those with initially HLPA had higher fat mass levels than those with low levels of physical activity. This finding suggests that HLPA are an important modulator of the body composition recovery mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa / blood
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology*
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptin / blood*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Weight Gain / physiology


  • Leptin

Grant support

These studies were supported by a ZonMW VIDI-grant (91786327) from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW; http://www.nwo.nl/) to Dr. Martien Kas. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.