Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Reduced thermogenesis in obesity


IT is often claimed that there are obese patients who find it difficult to maintain a normal body weight because they have such low energy requirements that even normal intakes of energy result in weight gain and obesity. Studies of both children1 and adults2 show that there can be a twofold difference in energy intake between individuals despite apparently similar patterns of physical activity. An individual variability in the capacity to dissipate heat by metabolic changes has therefore been suggested3 but no physiological basis for the differences in thermogenesis has yet been established. In genetically obese ob/ob mouse there are two components involved in the deposition of excess body fat: hyperphagia and increased metabolic efficiency4,5. Metabolic efficiency is the major factor responsible for obesity when the animals are kept at 20 °C so these animals provide a model study of the link between metabolic rate and obesity. Pre-obese and obese ob/ob animals have an abnormality of thermoregulatory thermogenesis with a reduced thermogenic response to cooling6. A defect in non-shivering thermogenesis can be confirmed by monitoring the thermogenic response to maximum doses of nor adrenaline: the ob/ob mouse has only half the response of its lean littermate. The abnormal thermoregulatory thermogenesis quantitatively accounts for most of the metabolic efficiency of the obese animals as pair feeding at thermoneutrality rather than at 23 °C reduces the excess fat deposited by 65%7. We report here that obese adults with a family history of obesity have a reduced metabolic response to noradrenaline infusion compared with thin adults. As the reduced non-shivering thermogenesis is also found in subjects with familial obesity who remain at normal weight by persistent dieting, the defect in non-shivering thermogenesis appears to be constitutional and not a secondary consequence of obesity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Widdowson, E. M. Spec. Rep. Ser. med. Res. Coun. No. 257 (1947).

  2. Rose, G. A. & Williams, T. R. Br. J. Nutr. 24, 1091–1107 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Miller, D. S. in Obesity (eds Burland, W. L., Samuel, P. D. & Yudkin, J., 160 (Edinburgh, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Alonso, L. G. & Maren, T. H. Am. J. Physiol. 183, 284–290 (1955).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Trayhurn, P., Thurlby, P. L., Woodward, C. J. H. & James, W. P. T. in Genetic Models of Obesity in Laboratory Animals (ed. Festing, M. F. W.) 191–203 (Macmillan, London, 1979).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Trayburn, P., Thurlby, P. L. & James, W. P. T. Nature 266, 60–61; 191–203 (1977).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Thurlby, P. L., Trayhurn, P. & James, W. P. T. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 17, 55A (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  8. James, W. P. T., Davies, H. L., Bailes, J. & Dauncey, M. J. Lancet i, 1122–1125 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Issekutz, B., Paul, P., Miller, H. I. & Bortz, W. M. Metabolism 17, 62–73 (1968).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Joy, R. J. T. J. appl. Physiol. 18, 1209–1212 (1963).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Foster, D. O. & Frydman, M. L. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmac. 56, 110–122 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Himms-Hagen, J. & Desautels, M. Biochem. biophys. Res. Commun. 83, 628–634 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Horowitz, B. A. in Strategies in Cold: Natural Torpidity and Thermogenesis Vol. 6 (eds Wang, L. C. H. & Hudson, J. W.) 629 (Academic, New York, 1979).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Heaton, J. M. J. Anat. 112, 35–39 (1972).

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Anderson, J., Short, A. & Yaffe, M. in Recent Advances in Obesity Research 1 (ed. Howard, A.), 201 (Newman, London, 1975).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Stat. Bull. 41, Feb. p. 6; March, p. 1 (Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York, 1960).

  17. Callingham, B. A. & Barrand, M. A. in Hormones in Blood, 3rd edn (eds Gray, C. H. & James, V. H. T.) (Academic, London, in the press).

  18. Trout, D. L., Estes, E. H. & Friedberg, S. J. J. Lipid Res. i, 199–202 (1960).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Ashworth, A. & Wolff, H. S. Eur. J. Physiol. 306, 191–194 (1969).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

JUNG, R., SHETTY, P., JAMES, W. et al. Reduced thermogenesis in obesity. Nature 279, 322–323 (1979).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing