How big is the energy gap in obesity? Top expert warns of public misunderstanding

September 7, 2006

The oversimplification of the “energy-in/energy out” equation is generating a fundamental public misunderstanding of the challenges of obesity, an eminent expert has warned at the International Congress on Obesity in Sydney today.

Professor Claude Bouchard, the outgoing president of IASO, the obesity research community’s global organization, described the concept of serious weight gain being the result of just a small imbalance between energy intake and expenditure of as little as 15 kcals was defective.

“This idea that obesity is the result of a tiny energy surplus accumulated over the years is quite misleading,” added Professor Bouchard, a leading geneticist, and Executive Director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA, USA.

“I’m concerned when I hear those working in the health field and even some scientists coming out with this kind of notion, which is fundamentally flawed. Clearly if it truly were that simple, we wouldn’t have the massive problem we are facing all over the world.”

The small surplus proposition is based on the assumption that calories are simply converted into fat stores at no energy cost and with no resulting changes in an individual’s energy requirements.

But Prof Bouchard said that not all surplus calories are stored with about a third are used up in the process of converting excess energy to fat stores. The imbalance in the early stages of weight gain may be very small compared to the much larger surplus involved in weight gain at the later stages of obesity.

Overweight and obese people actually have a normal metabolism, contrary to popular beliefs, but their basic resting energy requirements increase as they gain weight. In addition, obese people need to burn more energy to move around.

“This situation would be typical of someone who has become moderately overweight. In the case of a greater weight gain, as in frank obesity, the energy gap is much more substantial,” said Professor Bouchard.

Someone at an end point with an excess weight gain of 30 kg would have an imbalance of about 600 to 700 calories per day. An excess weight of 40 kg and more – not untypical in the one third of the adult population who are obese in the USA, - can easily translate in an energy gap of 1,000 calories per day to sustain the new body mass in comparison the prior normal weight level.
“This indicates that much larger numbers of calories are consumed compared to the situation when the same individual was normal weight,” he added.

One critical lesson, he warned, was that the narrowing the energy gap was likely to be much more successful when both energy intake and energy expenditure are addressed - cutting down food intake, increasing physical activity, and decreasing time spent in sedentary inactivity . This can be achieved much more easily at the earlier stage of weight gain, before serious levels of overweight are attained when the energy gap or surplus is still relatively small.

“It is important that we have a much clearer understanding of this issue, which is not as complex as it sounds, and reinforces the message that prevention is much better than cure. So we need to focus on those who are shifting from normal weight into the overweight category to attack that smaller weight gain before it becomes much harder to overcome,” Professor Bouchard concluded.

Source: International Obesity TaskForce

Explore further: Tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity in four decades, new study finds

Related Stories

Tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity in four decades, new study finds

October 10, 2017
The number of obese children and adolescents (aged 5 to 19 years) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades, according to a new study led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization (WHO). If current ...

Eating nuts can reduce weight gain, study says

September 20, 2017
A study recently published in the online version of the European Journal of Nutrition has found that people who include nuts in their diet are more likely to reduce weight gain and lower the risk of overweight and obesity.

Taking a break from dieting may improve weight loss

September 19, 2017
Avoiding continuous dieting may be the key to losing weight and keeping the kilos off, the latest University of Tasmania research shows.

Study establishes a timeline of obesity

September 28, 2017
When investigating the factors associated with the growing epidemic of obesity in the world over the last decade, scientists have identified two events that greatly contribute to weight gain. One is an alteration in the profile ...

The babies of women who consume carbohydrate-rich foods during pregnancy have an altered growth trajectory

October 5, 2017
Babies born to women who have a sugary diet during pregnancy have a higher body mass index, according to a new study by Singaporean researchers.

Experts explain what parents should know about pediatric obesity

September 19, 2017
Contrary to what many people think, childhood obesity doesn't just happen if a child eats too much and exercises too little. Sure, proper nutrition and physical activity are crucial to anyone's health, but there are many ...

Recommended for you

Dutch courage—Alcohol improves foreign language skills

October 18, 2017
A new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King's College London, shows that bilingual speakers' ability to speak a second ...

New clues to treat Alagille syndrome from zebrafish

October 18, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies potential new therapeutic avenues for patients with Alagille syndrome. The discovery, published in Nature Communications, ...

Large variety of microbial communities found to live along female reproductive tract

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A large team of researchers from China (and one each from Norway and Denmark) has found that the female reproductive tract is host to a far richer microbial community than has been thought. In their paper ...

New findings explain how UV rays trigger skin cancer

October 18, 2017
Melanoma, a cancer of skin pigment cells called melanocytes, will strike an estimated 87,110 people in the U.S. in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fraction of those melanomas come from ...

Genetic variants associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder identified

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers has found evidence of four genes that can be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the group ...

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

October 18, 2017
Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research from The Rockefeller University reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.