Nature Publishing Group, publisher of Nature, and other science journals and reference works
my account e-alerts subscribe register
Monday 21 August 2017
Journal Home
Current Issue
Download PDF
Export citation
Export references
Send to a friend
More articles like this

Letters to Nature
Nature 242, 418 (06 April 1973); doi:10.1038/242418a0

How Much Food Does Man Require ?


*Institute of Physiology, Glasgow
Division of Human Physiology, National Institute for Medical Research, London
Department of Nutrition, Queen Elizabeth College, London
§Department of Human Nutrition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London

WE believe that the energy requirements of man and his balance of intake and expenditure are not known. Paradoxically, we conclude this from results of the increasingly sophisticated studies of food intake and energy expenditure which show that in any group of twenty or more subjects, with similar attributes and activities, food intake can vary as much as two-fold1–5. In those surveys where both intake and expenditure are measured, there is often good agreement between the two estimates for the average of the group, but usually very large discrepancies between individual intake and individual expenditure. The results of careful studies in a number of countries suggest that some people, perhaps through some mechanism of adaptation, are able to be healthy and active on energy intakes which, by current standards, would be regarded as inadequate. On the other hand, there are also studies in which subjects have been given large quantities of additional food with little or no increase in body weight6,7. In contrast, there are the difficulties experienced by the obese in reducing body weight in spite of a drastic reduction of food intake, and the well recognized fact that many fat people eat no more, and sometimes less, than those who are not obese. These observations underline the extent of our ignorance about the mechanisms by which energy balance is maintained.



1. Widdowson, E. M., Spec. Rep. Ser. Med. Res. Coun. No. 257 (1947).
2. Widdowson, E. M., Proc. Nutr. Soc., 21, 121 (1962).
3. Rose, G. A., and Williams, R. T., Brit. J. Nutr., 15, 1 (1961).
4. Ashworth, A., Brit. J. Nutr., 22, 341 (1968).
5. Wynn-Jones, C., Atkinson, S. J., and Nicolas, P., Proc. Nutr. Soc., 31, 83A (1972).
6. Miller, D. S., and Mumford, P. M., Amer. J. Clin. Nutr., 20, 1212 (1967).
7. Miller, D. S., Mumford, P. M., and Stock, M. J., Amer. J. Clin. Nutr., 20, 1223 (1967).

© 1973 Nature Publishing Group
Privacy Policy