Does basal metabolic rate predict weight gain?

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Oct;104(4):959-963. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.134965. Epub 2016 Aug 31.


Background: Some previous studies have indicated that a low basal metabolic rate (BMR) is an independent predictor of future weight gain, but low rates of follow-up and highly select populations may limit the ability to generalize the results.

Objective: We assessed whether adults with a low BMR gain more weight than do adults with a high BMR who are living in a typical Western environment.

Design: We extracted BMR, body-composition, demographic, and laboratory data from electronic databases of 757 volunteers who were participating in our research protocols at the Mayo Clinic between 1995 and 2012. Research study volunteers were always weight stable, had no acute illnesses and no confounding medication use, and were nonsmokers. The top and bottom 15th percentiles of BMR, adjusted for fat-free mass (FFM), fat mass, age, and sex, were identified. Follow-up electronic medical record system data were available for 163 subjects, which allowed us to determine their subsequent weight changes for ≥3 y (mean: ∼9.7 y).

Results: By definition, the BMR was different in the high-BMR group (2001 ± 317 kcal/d; n = 86) than in the low-BMR group (1510 ± 222 kcal/d; n = 77), but they were comparable with respect to age, body mass index, FFM, and fat mass. Rates of weight gain were not greater in the bottom BMR group (0.3 ± 1.0 kg/y) than in the top BMR group (0.5 ± 1.5 kg/y) (P = 0.17).

Conclusion: Adults with low BMRs did not gain more weight than did adults with high BMRs, implying that habitual differences in food intake or activity counterbalance variations in BMR as a risk factor for weight gain in a typical Western population.

Keywords: Western population; body composition; body-weight change; clinical research; energy expenditure; free-living adults; indirect calorimetry; longitudinal follow-up; obesity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Metabolism*
  • Body Composition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain*
  • Young Adult