Adaptive Thermogenesis in Resistance to Obesity Therapies: Issues in Quantifying Thrifty Energy Expenditure Phenotypes in Humans

Curr Obes Rep. 2015 Jun;4(2):230-40. doi: 10.1007/s13679-015-0156-9.


Dieting and exercise are likely to remain the core approaches in the management of obesity in the foreseeable future despite their well-documented failures for achieving long-term weight loss. Explanations for such poor prognosis are centered on patient's self-regulatory failure and lack of compliance to the prescribed diet or exercise regimen. While a role for physiological adaptations leading to diminished rates of heat production has also been advocated, there are considerable uncertainties about the quantitative importance of such regulated heat production (i.e., adaptive thermogenesis) to the less-than-expected weight loss and ease for weight regain. This paper first reviews the most compelling evidence of what is often considered as weight loss-induced adaptive thermogenesis in various compartments of daily energy expenditure. It then discusses the major limitations and issues in quantifying such thrifty energy expenditure phenotypes and underscores the plausibility of diminished core temperature as a thrifty metabolic trait in resistance to weight loss. Although an accurate quantification of adaptive thermogenesis will have to await the applications of deep body composition phenotyping and better discrimination of physical activity energy expenditures, the magnitude of diminished energy expenditure in response to weight loss in certain individuals is large enough to support the concept that adaptive thermogenesis contribute importantly to their resistance to obesity therapies.

Keywords: Body composition; Core temperature; Dieting; Obesity; Thermogenesis; Weight cycling; Weight regain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Body Temperature* / genetics
  • Diet
  • Energy Metabolism* / genetics
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Phenotype*
  • Thermogenesis* / genetics
  • Weight Loss / genetics
  • Weight Loss / physiology*