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Potential effects of fat mass and fat-free mass on energy intake in different states of energy balance

European Journal of Clinical Nutritionvolume 72pages698709 (2018) | Download Citation


Recently models have attempted to integrate the functional relationships of fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) with the control of human energy intake (EI). Cross-sectional evidence suggests that at or close to EB, FFM is positively related to hunger and EI, whereas FM either shows a weak negative or no association with ad libitum EI. Further analysis suggests that the effects of FFM and FM on EI may be mediated by resting metabolic rate (RMR). These studies suggest that energy turnover is associated with EI and the largest determinant of energy requirements in most humans is FFM. During chronic positive EBs both FM and FFM expand (but disproportionately so), increasing energy demands. There is little evidence that an expanding FM exerts strong negative feedback on longer term EI. However, during chronic negative EBs FM, FFM and RMR all decrease but appetite increases. Some studies suggest that proportionate loss of FFM during weight loss predicts subsequent weight regain. Taken together these lines of evidence suggest that changes in the size and functional integrity of FFM may influence appetite and EI. Increases in FFM associated with either weight gain or high levels of exercise may ‘pull’ EI upwards but energy deficits that decrease FFM may exert a distinct drive on appetite. The current paper discusses how FM and FFM relationships influence appetite regulation, and how size, structure and functional integrity of FFM may drive EI in humans (i) at EB (ii) during positive EB and (iii) during negative EB.

Key points

  • At or close to EB, FFM is positively associated with EI, whereas FM is either not associated or weakly negatively associated with ad libitum EI.

  • Associations between FFM, FM and EI are mediated by RMR, suggesting that basal energy turnover may represent an indirect, tonic mechanism that relates energetic demands to EI.

  • There is little evidence that expanding FM exerts strong negative feedback on EI, but increased FFM associated with weight gain may ‘pull’ EI upwards.

  • During energy deficits or when growth is retarded, there may be an ‘active’ drive exerted by FFM on EI when FFM is in deficit and its functional integrity is threatened.

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We are most grateful to Adbul Dulloo, Jennifer Miles-Chan and Yves Schutz for insightful scientific discussions, which have improved this work.


Resource (staff time) for RJS, MH, GSF, JEB and CD was funded by the University of Leeds.

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All authors edited the manuscript and approved the final draft.

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  1. School of Psychology, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    • R. James Stubbs
    • , G. S. Finlayson
    • , C. Duarte
    • , C. Gibbons
    •  & J. E. Blundell
  2. School of Food Science and Nutrition, Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    • M. Hopkins


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