Energy expenditure in the etiology of human obesity: spendthrift and thrifty metabolic phenotypes and energy-sensing mechanisms

  • P. Piaggi
  • K. L. Vinales
  • A. Basolo
  • F. Santini
  • J. Krakoff
Short Review


The pathogenesis of human obesity is the result of dysregulation of the reciprocal relationship between food intake and energy expenditure (EE), which influences daily energy balance and ultimately leads to weight gain. According to principles of energy homeostasis, a relatively lower EE in a setting of energy balance may lead to weight gain; however, results from different study groups are contradictory and indicate a complex interaction between EE and food intake which may differentially influence weight change in humans. Recently, studies evaluating the adaptive response of one component to perturbations of the other component of energy balance have revealed both the existence of differing metabolic phenotypes (“spendthrift” and “thrifty”) resulting from overeating or underfeeding, as well as energy-sensing mechanisms linking EE to food intake, which might explain the propensity of an individual to weight gain. The purpose of this review is to debate the role that human EE plays on body weight regulation and to discuss the physiologic mechanisms linking EE and food intake. An increased understanding of the complex interplay between human metabolism and food consumption may provide insight into pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying weight gain, which may eventually lead to prevention and better treatment of human obesity.


Energy expenditure Adaptive thermogenesis Body weight regulation Metabolic phenotypes Energy sensing 



Studies #NCT00523627, #NCT00687115 and #NCT00342732 were supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The protocols were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Informed consent

All volunteers were fully informed of the nature and purpose of the studies (#NCT00523627, #NCT00687115 and #NCT00342732), and written informed consent was obtained.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Obesity and Diabetes Clinical Research Section, Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research BranchNational Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH)PhoenixUSA
  2. 2.Endocrinology Unit, Obesity Research CenterUniversity Hospital of PisaPisaItaly

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