The anatomy of resting energy expenditure: body composition mechanisms

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019 Feb;73(2):166-171. doi: 10.1038/s41430-018-0319-3. Epub 2018 Sep 25.


Body mass in humans and animals is strongly associated with the rate of heat production as defined by resting energy expenditure (REE). Beginning with the ancient Greeks up to the present time, philosophers and scientists have endeavored to understand the nature and sources of bodily heat. Today we recognize that body mass consists of organs and tissues, each of which produces a specified amount of heat at rest. An individual organ's REE can now be estimated in vivo as the product of its assumed mass-specific metabolic rate and its imaging-derived mass; whole-body REE reflects the sum of organ and tissue metabolic rates. The sizes of organs and total body mass in adults are governed by two main factors, a person's stature or height, and their level of adiposity. With greater body size, as represented by adult height independent of adiposity, organs remain stable or increase in mass according to distinct "scaling" patterns. Similarly, with greater relative adiposity organs adaptively accommodate to the increase in imposed mechanical and metabolic loading conditions. Through a detailed analysis of these stature and adiposity effects, we show how classical statistical REE prediction models can be mechanistically understood at the anatomic body composition level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Humans