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Energy metabolism in humans at a lowered ambient temperature


Objective: Assessment of the effect of a lowered ambient temperature, ie 16°C (61°F), compared to 22°C (72°F), on energy intake (EI), energy expenditure (EE) and respiratory quotient (RQ) in men.

Design: Randomized within-subject design in which subjects stayed in a respiration chamber three times for 60 h each, once at 22°C, and twice at 16°C, wearing standardized clothing, executing a standardized daily activities protocol, and were fed in energy balance (EBI): no significant difference between EE and EI over 24 h). During the last 24 h at 22°C, and once during the last 24 h at 16°C, they were fed ad libitum.

Subjects: Nine dietary unrestrained male subjects (ages 24±5 y, body mass index (BMI) 22.7±2.1 kg/m2, body weight 76.2±9.4 kg, height 1.83±0.06 m, 18±5% body fat).

Results: At 16°C (EB), EE (total 24 h EE) was increased to 12.9±2.0 MJ/day as compared to 12.2±2.2 MJ/day at 22°C (P<0.01). The increase was due to increases in sleeping metabolic rate (SMR; the lowest EE during three consecutive hours with hardly any movements as indicated by radar): 7.6±0.7 vs 7.2±0.7 MJ/day (P<0.05) and diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT; EE-SMR, when activity induced energy expenditure as indicated by radar=0): 1.7±0.4 vs 1.0±0.4 MJ/day (P<0.01). Physical activity level (PAL; EE/SMR) was 1.63–1.68. At 16°C compared to at 22°C, rectal, proximal and distal skin temperatures had decreased (P<0.01). RQ was not different between the two ambient temperature situations. During ad libitum feeding, subjects overate by 32±12% (at 22°C) and by 34±14% (at 16°C). Under these circumstances, the decrease of rectal temperature at 16°C was attenuated, and inversely related to percentage overeating (r2=0.7; P<0.01).

Conclusion: We conclude that at 16°C, compared to 22°C, energy metabolism was increased, due to increases in SMR and DIT. Overeating under ad libitum circumstances at 16°C attenuated the decrease in rectal core body temperature.

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We wish to thank Paul Schoffelen for his assistance with the respiration chamber measurements, Lock Wouters for helping with the body temperature registrations, and Dr Kathleen Melanson for editing the English text.

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Correspondence to MS Westerterp-Plantenga.


Appendix 1 Activity protocol

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Westerterp-Plantenga, M., van Marken Lichtenbelt, W., Strobbe, H. et al. Energy metabolism in humans at a lowered ambient temperature. Eur J Clin Nutr 56, 288–296 (2002).

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  • ambient temperature
  • energy intake
  • energy expenditure
  • body temperature
  • humans

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