Energy compensation and adiposity in humans

Vincent Careau, Lewis G. Halsey, Herman Pontzer, Philip N. Ainslie, Lene F. Andersen, Liam J. Anderson, Lenore Arab, Issad Baddou, Kweku Bedu-Addo, Ellen E. Blaak, Stephane Blanc, Alberto G. Bonomi, Carlijn V. C. Bouten, Maciej S. Buchowski, Nancy F. Butte, Stefan G. J. A. Camps, Graeme L. Close, Jamie A. Cooper, Sai Krupa Das, Richard CooperLara R. Dugas, Simon D. Eaton, Ulf Ekelund, Sonja Entringer, Terrence Forrester, Barry W. Fudge, Annelies H. Goris, Michael Gurven, Catherine Hambly, Asmaa El Hamdouchi, Marije B. Hoos, Sumei Hu, Noorjehan Joonas, Annemiek M. Joosen, Peter Katzmarzyk, Kitty P. Kempen, Misaka Kimura, William E. Kraus, Robert F. Kushner, Estelle Lambert, William R. Leonard, Nader Lessan, Corby K. Martin, Anine C. Medin, Erwin P. Meijer, James C. Morehen, James P. Morton, Marian L. Neuhouser, Theresa A. Nicklas, Robert M. Ojiambo, Kirsi H. Pietilainen, Yannis P. Pitsiladis, Jacob Plange-Rhule, Guy Plasqui, Ross L. Prentice, Roberto A. Rabinovich, Susan B. Racette, David A. Raichlen, Eric Ravussin, John J. Reilly, Rebecca M. Reynolds, Susan B. Roberts, Albertine J. Schuit, Anders M. Sjodin, Eric Stice, Samuel S. Urlacher, Giulio Valenti, Ludo M. Van Etten, Edgar A. Van Mil, Jonathan C. K. Wells, George Wilson, Brian M. Wood, Jack Yanovski, Tsukasa Yoshida, Xueying Zhang, Alexia J. Murphy-Alford, Cornelia U. Loechl, Amy H. Luke, Jennifer Rood, Hiroyuki Sagayama, Dale A. Schoeller, William W. Wong, Yosuke Yamada, John R. Speakman

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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.(1-3) 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4659-4666
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
Early online date27 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

The DLW database, which can be found at, is hosted by the IAEA and generously supported by Taiyo Nippon Sanso and SERCON. We are grateful to the IAEA and these companies for their support and especially to Takashi Oono for his tremendous efforts at fundraising on our behalf. The authors also gratefully acknowledge funding from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS 153E11KYSB20190045) to J.R.S. and the US National Science Foundation (BCS-1824466) awarded to H.P. The funders played no role in the content of this manuscript. We are grateful for the data submission of David Ludwig and Cara Ebbeling, and for the analysis by Steve Heymsfield of his own data indicating no change in FFM hydration with age in adults.

Data Availability Statement

Supplemental information can be found online at cub.2021.08.016.


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