Low levels of physical activity are associated with dysregulation of energy intake and fat mass gain over 1 year

Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1332-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115360. Epub 2015 Nov 11.


Background: Previous studies suggest that appetite may be dysregulated at low levels of activity, creating an energy imbalance that results in weight gain.

Objective: The aim was to examine the relation between energy intake, physical activity, appetite, and weight gain during a 1-y follow-up period in a large sample of adults.

Design: Participants included 421 individuals (mean ± SD age: 27.6 ± 3.8 y). Measurements included the following: energy intake with the use of interviewer-administered dietary recalls and calculated by using changes in body composition and energy expenditure, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) with the use of an arm-based monitor, body composition with the use of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, and questionnaire-derived perceptions of dietary restraint, disinhibition, hunger, and control of eating. Participants were grouped at baseline into quintiles of MVPA (min/d) by sex. Measurements were repeated every 3 mo for 1 y.

Results: At baseline, an inverse relation existed between body weight and activity groups, with the least-active group (15.7 ± 9.9 min MVPA/d, 6062 ± 1778 steps/d) having the highest body weight (86.3 ± 13.2 kg) and the most-active group (174.5 ± 60.5 min MVPA/d, 10260 ± 3087 steps/d) having the lowest body weight (67.5 ± 11.0 kg). A positive relation was observed between calculated energy intake and activity group, except in the lowest quintile of activity. The lowest physical activity group reported higher levels of disinhibition (P = 0.07) and cravings for savory foods (P = 0.03) compared with the group with the highest level of physical activity. Over 1 y of follow-up, the lowest activity group gained the largest amount of fat mass (1.7 ± 0.3 kg) after adjustment for change in MVPA and baseline fat mass. The odds of gaining >3% of fat mass were between 1.8 and 3.8 times as high for individuals in the least-active group as for those in the middle activity group.

Conclusions: These results suggest that low levels of physical activity are a risk factor for fat mass gain. In the current sample, a threshold for achieving energy balance occurred at an activity level corresponding to 7116 steps/d, an amount achievable by most adults. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01746186.

Keywords: energy balance; energy intake; obesity; physical activity; weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Actigraphy
  • Adiposity*
  • Adult
  • Appetite Regulation*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cohort Studies
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Motor Activity
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Overweight / etiology*
  • Overweight / metabolism
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Weight Gain
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01746186