This review has examined the factors that influence the thermic effect of food (TEF) by evaluating 49 studies that have compared subjects who are obese with those who are lean. Meal size, meal composition, the nature of the previous diet, insulin resistance, physical activity, and ageing influence TEF. In the studies of individuals who are obese or lean, of those who used intravenous glucose infusions, all but one found an impaired thermic response. A total of 29 out of 49 studies of individuals of normal weight or with obesity were identified where there was no difference in age between the groups, and where the subjects who were "overweight" were clearly obese. Of these 29, 22 reported a statistically significant reduction in TEF, 3 studies were not designed to look primarily at the effect of obesity on TEF, and the other 4 may not have had sufficiently palatable meals. From this review, we conclude that the reduction of TEF in obesity is related to the degree of insulin resistance, which may be influenced by a low level of sympathetic activity.