Activity energy expenditure is an independent predictor of energy intake in humans



There is evidence that the energetic demand of metabolically active tissue is associated with day-to-day food intake (EI). However, the extent to which behavioural components of total daily energy expenditure (EE) such as activity energy expenditure (AEE) are also associated with EI is unknown. Therefore, the present study examined the cross-sectional associations between body composition, resting metabolic rate (RMR), AEE and EI.


Data for 242 individuals (114 males; 128 females; BMI = 25.7 ± 4.9 kg/m2) were collated from the baseline control conditions of five studies employing common measures of body composition (air displacement plethysmography) and RMR (indirect calorimetry). Daily EI (weighed-dietary records) and EE (FLEX heart rate) were measured over 6–7 days, and AEE was calculated as total daily EE minus RMR.


Linear regression indicated that RMR (ß= 0.39; P< 0.001), fat mass (ß= −0.26; P< 0.001) and AEE (ß= 0.18; P= 0.002) were independent predictors of mean daily EI, with AEE adding ≈3% of variance to the model after controlling for age, sex and study (F(10, 231) = 18.532, P < 0.001; R2 = 0.445). Path analyses indicated that the effect of FFM on mean daily EI was mediated by RMR (P < 0.05), while direct (β = 0.19; P < 0.001) and indirect (β = 0.20; P = 0.001) associations between AEE and mean daily EI were observed.


When physical activity was allowed to vary under free-living conditions, AEE was associated with mean daily EI independently of other biological determinants of EI arising from body composition and RMR. These data suggest that EE per se exerts influence over daily food intake, with both metabolic (RMR) and behavioral (AEE) components of total daily EE potentially influencing EI via their contribution to daily energy requirements.

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The authors’ responsibilities were as follows: RJS, GWH, AMJ and SW conceived the individual studies; RJS, SW, AMJ and the project team (Leona O’Reilley and Zoe Fuller) conducted the research. MH, CD and GWH analysed the data & performed the statistical analysis. MH, JB, RJS and GF and wrote the initial manuscript, while all authors commented on and approved the manuscript. RJS had primary responsibility for final content.


The present study was funded by the Food Standards Agency, UK, and The Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division. None of the funding bodies had a role in the design, analysis or writing of this article.

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Correspondence to Mark Hopkins.

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Hopkins, M., Duarte, C., Beaulieu, K. et al. Activity energy expenditure is an independent predictor of energy intake in humans. Int J Obes 43, 1466–1474 (2019).

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