Total daily energy expenditure has declined over the past three decades due to declining basal expenditure, not reduced activity expenditure

Nat Metab. 2023 Apr;5(4):579-588. doi: 10.1038/s42255-023-00782-2. Epub 2023 Apr 26.


Obesity is caused by a prolonged positive energy balance1,2. Whether reduced energy expenditure stemming from reduced activity levels contributes is debated3,4. Here we show that in both sexes, total energy expenditure (TEE) adjusted for body composition and age declined since the late 1980s, while adjusted activity energy expenditure increased over time. We use the International Atomic Energy Agency Doubly Labelled Water database on energy expenditure of adults in the United States and Europe (n = 4,799) to explore patterns in total (TEE: n = 4,799), basal (BEE: n = 1,432) and physical activity energy expenditure (n = 1,432) over time. In males, adjusted BEE decreased significantly, but in females this did not reach significance. A larger dataset of basal metabolic rate (equivalent to BEE) measurements of 9,912 adults across 163 studies spanning 100 years replicates the decline in BEE in both sexes. We conclude that increasing obesity in the United States/Europe has probably not been fuelled by reduced physical activity leading to lowered TEE. We identify here a decline in adjusted BEE as a previously unrecognized factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Basal Metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • United States