Variability in energy expenditure is much greater in males than females

Lewis G Halsey* (Corresponding Author), Vincent Careau, Herman Pontzer* (Corresponding Author), 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, Pascal Bovet, Maciej S Buchowski, Nancy F Butte, Stefan G J A Camps, Graeme L Close, Jamie A Cooper, Sai Krupa DasRichard Cooper, Lara R Dugas, 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 V 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 Pietiläinen, Yannis P Pitsiladis, Jacob Plange-Rhule, Guy Plasqui, Ross L Prentice, Roberto A Rabinovich, Susan B Racette, David A Raichlen, Eric Ravussin, Rebecca M Reynolds, Susan B Roberts, Albertine J Schuit, Anders M Sjödin, Eric Stice, Samuel S Urlacher, Giulio Valenti, Ludo M Van Etten, Edgar A Van Mil, George Wilson, Brian M Wood, Jack Yanovski, Tsukasa Yoshida, Xueying Zhang, Alexia J Murphy-Alford, Cornelia U Loechl, Amy H Luke* (Corresponding Author), Jennifer Rood* (Corresponding Author), Hiroyuki Sagayama* (Corresponding Author), Dale A Schoeller* (Corresponding Author), Klaas R Westerterp* (Corresponding Author), William W Wong* (Corresponding Author), Yosuke Yamada* (Corresponding Author), John R Speakman* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


In mammals, trait variation is often reported to be greater among males than females. However, to date, mainly only morphological traits have been studied. Energy expenditure represents the metabolic costs of multiple physical, physiological, and behavioral traits. Energy expenditure could exhibit particularly high greater male variation through a cumulative effect if those traits mostly exhibit greater male variation, or a lack of greater male variation if many of them do not. Sex differences in energy expenditure variation have been little explored. We analyzed a large database on energy expenditure in adult humans (1494 males and 3108 females) to investigate whether humans have evolved sex differences in the degree of interindividual variation in energy expenditure. We found that, even when statistically comparing males and females of the same age, height, and body composition, there is much more variation in total, activity, and basal energy expenditure among males. However, with aging, variation in total energy expenditure decreases, and because this happens more rapidly in males, the magnitude of greater male variation, though still large, is attenuated in older age groups. Considerably greater male variation in both total and activity energy expenditure could be explained by greater male variation in levels of daily activity. The considerably greater male variation in basal energy expenditure is remarkable and may be explained, at least in part, by greater male variation in the size of energy-demanding organs. If energy expenditure is a trait that is of indirect interest to females when choosing a sexual partner, this would suggest that energy expenditure is under sexual selection. However, we present a novel energetics model demonstrating that it is also possible that females have been under stabilizing selection pressure for an intermediate basal energy expenditure to maximize energy available for reproduction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103229
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Early online date15 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

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 (CAS153E11KYSB20190045) to J.R.S. and the US National Science Foundation (BCS-1824466) awarded to H.P.

Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.

Data Availability Statement

Supplementary online material to this article can be found online at


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging/metabolism
  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Energy Metabolism/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Reproduction/physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • DLW
  • Energetics
  • Activity
  • Trait variability
  • Biological sex


Dive into the research topics of 'Variability in energy expenditure is much greater in males than females'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this