The centenary of the Harris-Benedict equations: How to assess energy requirements best? Recommendations from the ESPEN expert group

Clin Nutr. 2021 Mar;40(3):690-701. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2020.11.012. Epub 2020 Nov 20.


Background & aims: The year 2019 marked the centenary of the publication of the Harris and Benedict equations for estimation of energy expenditure. In October 2019 a Scientific Symposium was organized by the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) in Vienna, Austria, to celebrate this historical landmark, looking at what is currently known about the estimation and measurement of energy expenditure.

Methods: Current evidence was discussed during the symposium, including the scientific basis and clinical knowledge, and is summarized here to assist with the estimation and measurement of energy requirements that later translate into energy prescription.

Results: In most clinical settings, the majority of predictive equations have low to moderate performance, with the best generally reaching an accuracy of no more than 70%, and often lead to large errors in estimating the true needs of patients. Generally speaking, the addition of body composition measurements did not add to the accuracy of predictive equations. Indirect calorimetry is the most reliable method to measure energy expenditure and guide energy prescription, but carries inherent limitations, greatly restricting its use in real life clinical practice.

Conclusions: While the limitations of predictive equations are clear, their use is still the mainstay in clinical practice. It is imperative to recognize specific patient populations for whom a specific equation should be preferred. When available, the use of indirect calorimetry is advised in a variety of clinical settings, aiming to avoid under-as well as overfeeding.

Keywords: Energy expenditure; Energy requirements; Indirect calorimetry; Nutritional prescriptions; Predictive equations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Constitution
  • Body Weight
  • Calorimetry, Indirect
  • Critical Illness
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative