Energy compensation and adiposity in humans

Careau, Vincent and Halsey, Lewis G and Pontzer, Herman and Ainslie, Philip N and Andersen, Lene F and Anderson, Liam J and Arab, Lenore and Baddou, Issad and Bedu-Addo, Kweku and Blaak, Ellen E and Blanc, Stephane and Bonomi, Alberto G and Bouten, Carlijn V C and Buchowski, Maciej S and Butte, Nancy F and Camps, Stefan G J A and Close, Graeme L and Cooper, Jamie A and Das, Sai Krupa and Cooper, Richard and Dugas, Lara R and Eaton, Simon D and Ekelund, Ulf and Entringer, Sonja and Forrester, Terrence and Fudge, Barry W and Goris, Annelies H and Gurven, Michael and Hambly, Catherine and El Hamdouchi, Asmaa and Hoos, Marije B and Hu, Sumei and Joonas, Noorjehan and Joosen, Annemiek M and Katzmarzyk, Peter and Kempen, Kitty P and Kimura, Misaka and Kraus, William E and Kushner, Robert F and Lambert, Estelle V and Leonard, William R and Lessan, Nader and Martin, Corby K and Medin, Anine C and Meijer, Erwin P and Morehen, James C and Morton, James P and Reilly, John J and Valenti, Giulio and Wells, Jonathan C K, The IAEA DLW database group (2021) Energy compensation and adiposity in humans. Current Biology, 31 (20). pp. 4659-4666. ISSN 0960-9822 (

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Understanding the impacts of activity on energy balance is crucial. Increasing levels of activity may bring diminishing returns in energy expenditure because of compensatory responses in non-activity energy expenditures. This suggestion has profound implications for both the evolution of metabolism and human health. It implies that a long-term increase in activity does not directly translate into an increase in total energy expenditure (TEE) because other components of TEE may decrease in response-energy compensation. We used the largest dataset compiled on adult TEE and basal energy expenditure (BEE) (n = 1,754) of people living normal lives to find that energy compensation by a typical human averages 28% due to reduced BEE; this suggests that only 72% of the extra calories we burn from additional activity translates into extra calories burned that day. Moreover, the degree of energy compensation varied considerably between people of different body compositions. This association between compensation and adiposity could be due to among-individual differences in compensation: people who compensate more may be more likely to accumulate body fat. Alternatively, the process might occur within individuals: as we get fatter, our body might compensate more strongly for the calories burned during activity, making losing fat progressively more difficult. Determining the causality of the relationship between energy compensation and adiposity will be key to improving public health strategies regarding obesity.