The current obesogenic environment promotes physical inactivity and food consumption in excess of energy requirements, two important modifiable risk factors influencing energy balance. Habitual physical activity has been shown to impact not only energy expenditure, but also energy intake through mechanisms of appetite control. This review summarizes recent theory and evidence underpinning the role of physical activity in the homeostatic and non-homeostatic mechanisms controlling appetite. Energy intake along the spectrum of physical activity levels (inactive to highly active) appears to be J-shaped, with low levels of physical activity leading to dysregulated appetite and a mismatch between energy intake and expenditure. At higher levels, habitual physical activity influences homeostatic appetite control in a dual-process action by increasing the drive to eat through greater energy expenditure, but also by enhancing post-meal satiety, allowing energy intake to better match energy expenditure in response to hunger and satiety signals. There is clear presumptive evidence that physical activity energy expenditure can act as a drive (determinant) of energy intake. The influence of physical activity level on non-homeostatic appetite control is less clear, but low levels of physical activity may amplify hedonic states and behavioural traits favouring overconsumption indirectly through increased body fat. More evidence is required to understand the interaction between physical activity, appetite control and diet composition on passive overconsumption and energy balance. Furthermore, potential moderators of appetite control along the spectrum of physical activity, such as body composition, sex, and type, intensity and timing of physical activity, remain to be fully understood.
Keywords: Appetite control; Energy balance; Energy intake; Food hedonics; Physical activity.
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