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Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jun;103(6):1389-96. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.127753. Epub 2016 May 11.

Low energy intake plus low energy expenditure (low energy flux), not energy surfeit, predicts future body fat gain.

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Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; and
Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, OR.



There is a paucity of studies that have prospectively tested the energy surfeit theory of obesity with the use of objectively estimated energy intake and energy expenditure in humans. An alternative theory is that homeostatic regulation of body weight is more effective when energy intake and expenditure are both high (high energy flux), implying that low energy flux should predict weight gain.


We aimed to examine the predictive relations of energy balance and energy flux to future weight gain and tested whether results were replicable in 2 independent samples.


Adolescents (n = 154) and college-aged women (n = 75) underwent 2-wk objective doubly labeled water, resting metabolic rate, and percentage of body fat measures at baseline. Percentage of body fat was measured annually for 3 y of follow-up for the adolescent sample and for 2 y of follow-up for the young adult sample.


Low energy flux, but not energy surfeit, predicted future increases in body fat in both studies. Furthermore, high energy flux appeared to prevent fat gain in part because it was associated with a higher resting metabolic rate.


Counter to the energy surfeit model of obesity, results suggest that increasing energy expenditure may be more effective for reducing body fat than caloric restriction, which is currently the treatment of choice for obesity. This trial was registered at as NCT02084836.


doubly labeled water; energy balance; energy flux; physical activity; weight gain

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