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.

Body composition, energy expenditure and physical activity

Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure




Identifying critical periods of greater weight gain could provide useful information to combat the obesity epidemic. We tested whether body weight (BW), body fat percentage (BF%) and blood pressure (BP) changed during the holiday season (thanksgiving to new year’s day) and the impact of regular exercise on these parameters.


A total of 48 males and 100 females (age 18–65 years) with a mean body mass index of 25.1±0.5 kg/m2 were evaluated in mid-November (visit 1) and early January (visit 2; across 57±0.5 days). Anthropometric data, BF%, BP and self-reported exercise were recorded.


Participants showed significant increases in BW (0.78±0.1 kg, P<0.001, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.57–0.99), BF% (0.5±0.2%, P=0.007, 95% CI: 0.12–0.77), systolic blood pressure (SBP; 2.3±1.2 mm Hg, P=0.048, 95% CI: 0.01–4.63) and diastolic blood pressure (1.8±0.8 mm Hg, P=0.028, 95% CI: 0.20–3.49). Obese participants (35.2±0.8 kg/m2) showed a greater increase in BF% compared with normal weight participants (21.7±0.2 kg/m2, P<0.05, 95% CI: 0.53–2.37) and a trend vs overweight participants (26.8±0.3 kg/m2, P=0.07, 95% CI: −0.18–1.65). Exercise (4.8±0.6 h per week) did not protect against holiday weight gain and was not a significant predictor for changes in BW or BF%. Data are reported as means±s.e.


Our participants gained an average of 0.78 kg, which indicates the majority of average annual weight gain (1 kg/y) reported by others may occur during the holiday season. Obese participants are most at risk as they showed the greatest increases in BF%. Initial BW, not exercise, significantly predicted BF% and BW gain.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1
Figure 2


  1. Hill JO, Wyatt HR, Reed GW, Peters JC . Obesity and the environment: where do we go from here? Science 2003; 299: 853–855.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Flegal KM, Troiano RP . Changes in the distribution of body mass index of adults and children in the US population. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2000; 24: 807–818.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ogden CL, Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Flegal KM . Mean body weight, height, and body mass index, United States 1960-2002. Adv Data 2004; 347: 1–17.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Brown WJ, Williams L, Ford JH, Ball K, Dobson AJ . Identifying the energy gap: magnitude and determinants of 5-year weight gain in midage women. Obes Res 2005; 13: 1431–1441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hill JO . Can a small-changes approach help address the obesity epidemic? A report of the Joint Task Force of the American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists, and International Food Information Council. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 89: 477–484.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Lewis CE, Jacobs DR Jr, McCreath H, Kiefe CI, Schreiner PJ, Smith DE et al. Weight gain continues in the 1990 s: 10-year trends in weight and overweight from the CARDIA study. Coronary artery risk development in young adults. Am J Epidemiol 2000; 151: 1172–1181.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Finkelstein EA, Khavjou OA, Thompson H, Trogdon JG, Pan L, Sherry B et al. Obesity and severe obesity forecasts through 2030. Am J Prev Med 2012; 42: 563–570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Wang Y, Beydoun MA, Liang L, Caballero B, Kumanyika SK . Will all Americans become overweight or obese? estimating the progression and cost of the US obesity epidemic. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008; 16: 2323–2330.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Wang SS, Brownell KD . Public policy and obesity: the need to marry science with advocacy. Psychiatr Clin North Am 2005; 28: 235–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Nestle M . Food marketing and childhood obesity: a matter of policy. N Engl J Med 2006; 354: 2527–2529.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Nestle M, Jacobson MF . Halting the obesity epidemic: a public health policy approach. Public Health Rep 2000; 115: 12–24.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hill JO, Peters JC . Environmental contributions to the obesity epidemic. Science 1998; 280: 1371–1374.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Peters JC, Wyatt HR, Donahoo WT, Hill JO . From instinct to intellect: the challenge of maintaining healthy weight in the modern world. Obes Rev 2002; 3: 69–74.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W . Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. J Consult Clin Psychol 2008; 76: 442–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG . A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med 2000; 342: 861–867.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ma Y, Olendzki BC, Li W, Hafner AR, Chiriboga D, Hebert JR et al. Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population. Eur J Clin Nutr 2006; 60: 519–528.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cook CM, Subar AF, Troiano RP, Schoeller DA . Relation between holiday weight gain and total energy expenditure among 40- to 69-y-old men and women (OPEN study). Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95: 726–731.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN, Franklin BA et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 2007; 116: 1081–1093.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Shapiro SS, Wilk MB . An analysis of variance test for normality (complete samples). Biometrika 1965; 52: 591–611.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Johnson JW . A heuristic method for estimating the relative weight of predictor variables in multiple regression. Multivar Behav Res 2000; 35: 1–19.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey data. U.S. Department of Health of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Atlanta, GA, 2011.

  22. Andersson I, Rossner S . The Christmas factor in obesity therapy. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1992; 16: 1013–1015.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Hull HR, Radley D, Dinger MK, Fields DA . The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Nutr J 2006; 5: 29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hull HR, Hester CN, Fields DA . The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2006; 3: 44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Asikainen TM, Miilunpalo S, Kukkonen-Harjula K, Nenonen A, Pasanen M, Rinne M et al. Walking trials in postmenopausal women: effect of low doses of exercise and exercise fractionization on coronary risk factors. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2003; 13: 284–292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight fact sheet (cited 11 November 2012). Available from

  27. Eckerson JM, Stout JR, Housh TJ, Johnson GO . Validity of bioelectrical impedance equations for estimating percent fat in males. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28: 523–530.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Wang JG, Zhang Y, Chen HE, Li Y, Cheng XG, Xu L et al. Comparison of two bioelectrical impedance analysis devices with dual energy X-ray absorptiometry and magnetic resonance imaging in the estimation of body composition. J Strength Cond Res 2013; 27: 236–243.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to J A Cooper.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Stevenson, J., Krishnan, S., Stoner, M. et al. Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. Eur J Clin Nutr 67, 944–949 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • holiday
  • weight gain
  • body composition
  • exercise
  • physical activity

Further reading


Quick links