The biology of human overfeeding: A systematic review

Obes Rev. 2020 Sep;21(9):e13040. doi: 10.1111/obr.13040. Epub 2020 Jun 8.


This systematic review has examined more than 300 original papers dealing with the biology of overfeeding. Studies have varied from 1 day to 6 months. Overfeeding produced weight gain in adolescents, adult men and women and in older men. In longer term studies, there was a clear and highly significant relationship between energy ingested and weight gain and fat storage with limited individual differences. There is some evidence for a contribution of a genetic component to this response variability. The response to overfeeding was affected by the baseline state of the groups being compared: those with insulin resistance versus insulin sensitivity; those prone to obesity versus those resistant to obesity; and those with metabolically abnormal obesity versus those with metabolically normal obesity. Dietary components, such as total fat, polyunsaturated fat and carbohydrate influenced the patterns of adipose tissue distribution as did the history of low or normal birth weight. Overfeeding affected the endocrine system with increased circulating concentrations of insulin and triiodothyronine frequently present. Growth hormone, in contrast, was rapidly suppressed. Changes in plasma lipids were influenced by diet, exercise and the magnitude of weight gain. Adipose tissue and skeletal muscle morphology and metabolism are substantially altered by chronic overfeeding.

Keywords: adipose tissue and muscle metabolism; diet composition and mediators of response; endocrine and metabolic changes; energy intake and expenditure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / physiopathology*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Weight Gain*