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Physical activity and regulation of food intake: current evidence


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 1999 - Volume 31 - Issue 11 - p S573
Roundtable Consensus Statement

BLUNDELL, J. E., and N. A. KING. Physical activity and regulation of food intake: current evidence. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 11, Suppl., pp. S573–S583, 1999.

Objective The evidence was reviewed on how physical activity could influence the regulation of food intake by either adjusting the sensitivity of appetite control mechanisms or by generating an energy deficit that could adjust the drive to eat.

Design Interventionist and correlational studies that had a significant influence on the relationship between physical activity and food intake were reviewed. Interventionist studies involve a deliberate imposition of physical activity with subsequent monitoring of the eating response. Correlational studies make use of naturally occurring differences in the levels of physical activity (between and within subjects) with simultaneous assessment of energy expenditure and intake.

Subjects Studies using lean, overweight, and obese men and women were included.

Results Only 19% of interventionist studies report an increase in energy intake after exercise; 65% show no change and 16% show a decrease in appetite. Of the correlational studies, approximately half show no relationship between energy expenditure and intake. These data indicate a rather loose coupling between energy expenditure and intake. A common sense view is that exercise is futile as a form of weight control because the energy deficit drives a compensatory increase in food intake. However, evidence shows that this is not generally true. One positive aspect of this is that raising energy expenditure through physical activity (or maintaining an active life style) can cause weight loss or prevent weight gain. A negative feature is that when people become sedentary after a period of high activity, food intake is not “down-regulated” to balance a reduced energy expenditure.

Conclusion Evidence suggests that a high level of physical activity can aid weight control either by improving the matching of food intake to energy expenditure (regulation) or by raising expenditure so that it is difficult for people to eat themselves into a positive energy balance.

BioPsychology Group, School of Psychology, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: John Blundell, BioPsychology Group, School of Psychology, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, United Kingdom; E-mail:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.