Horm Metab Res 2014; 46(05): 365-369
DOI: 10.1055/s-0033-1357205
Endocrine Care
© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

The Thermic Effect of Food is Reduced in Older Adults

S. Du*
1   Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
2   Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA
T. Rajjo*
2   Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA
S. Santosa
3   Department of Exercise Science, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada
M. D. Jensen
2   Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

received 02 August 2013

accepted 24 September 2013

Publication Date:
23 October 2013 (online)


The thermic effect of food accounts for ̴ 10% of daily energy expenditure. A reduction in the thermic effect of food, which has been variably observed in the older adults, could predispose to fat gain. We tested whether the thermic effect of food is reduced in older adults compared with young adults by analyzing our database of standardized studies conducted at the Mayo Clinic between 1999 and 2009. Data were available from 136 older adult volunteers aged 60–88 (56 females) and 141 young adults aged 18–35 years (67 females). Basal energy expenditure was measured by indirect calorimetry to assess basal metabolic rate. Body fat, fat free mass, and visceral fat were measured using a combination of dual energy X-ray absorptiometry and an abdominal CT scan. The thermic effect of food and postprandial insulinemia were measured in 123 older adults (52 females) and 86 young adults (38 females) of these volunteers. Basal metabolic rate adjusted for fat-free mass was less in older adults (p=0.01) and the thermic effect of food was ̴ 1% (p=0.02) less in the older adults. After controlling for meal size and fat-free mass, body fat and fat distribution did not predict the thermic effect of food. Both basal metabolic rate and the thermic effect of food are less in older adults than young adults, even when they have similar amounts of lean tissue and consume a similar size meal. These factors contribute to lower daily energy expenditure in the older adults.

* Denotes equal contribution to this work.

  • References

  • 1 Ludwig J, Sanbonmatsu L, Gennetian L, Adam E, Duncan GJ, Katz LF, Kessler RC, Kling JR, Lindau ST, Whitaker RC, McDade TW. Neighborhoods, obesity, and diabetes–a randomized social experiment. N Engl J Med 2011; 365: 1509-1519
  • 2 Fradkin JE, Roberts BT, Rodgers GP. What’s preventing us from preventing type 2 diabetes?. N Engl J Med 2012; 367: 1177-1179
  • 3 Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med 2011; 364: 2392-2404
  • 4 Reed GW, Hill JO. Measuring the thermic effect of food. Am J Clin Nutr 1996; 63: 164-169
  • 5 Schwartz RS, Jaeger LF, Veith RC. The thermic effect of feeding in older men: the importance of the sympathetic nervous system. Metabolism 1990; 39: 733-737
  • 6 Jones PP, Van Pelt RE, Johnson DG, Seals DR. Role of sympathetic neural activation in age- and habitual exercise-related differences in the thermic effect of food. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004; 89: 5138-5144
  • 7 Poehlman ET. Energy intake and energy expenditure in the elderly. Am J Hum Biol 1996; 8: 199-206
  • 8 Ravussin E, Bogardus C. Relationship of genetics, age, and physical fitness to daily energy expenditure and fuel utilization. Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 49: 968-975
  • 9 Jensen MD, Bajnarek J, Lee SY, Nielsen S, Koutsari C. Relationship between postabsorptive respiratory exchange ratio and plasma free fatty acid concentrations. J Lipid Res 2009; 50: 1863-1869
  • 10 Jensen MD, Kanaley JA, Reed JE, Sheedy PF. Measurement of abdominal and visceral fat with computed tomography and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 61: 274-278
  • 11 Jensen MD, Kanaley JA, Roust LR, O’Brien PC, Braun JS, Dunn WL, Wahner HW. Assessment of body composition with use of dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry: evaluation and comparison with other methods. Mayo Clin Proc 1993; 68: 867-873
  • 12 Uranga AP, Levine J, Jensen M. Isotope tracer measures of meal fatty acid metabolism: reproducibility and effects of the menstrual cycle. Am J Physiol 2005; 288: E547-E555
  • 13 Frayn KN. Calculation of substrate oxidation rates in vivo from gaseous exchange. J Appl Physiol 1983; 55: 628-634
  • 14 Morgan JB, York DA. Thermic effect of feeding in relation to energy balance in elderly men. Ann Nutr Metab 1983; 27: 71-77
  • 15 Visser M, Deurenberg P, van Staveren WA, Hautvast JG. Resting metabolic rate and diet-induced thermogenesis in young and elderly subjects: relationship with body composition, fat distribution, and physical activity level. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 61: 772-778
  • 16 Vaughan L, Zurlo F, Ravussin E. Aging and energy expenditure. Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 53: 821-825
  • 17 Bloesch D, Schutz Y, Breitenstein E, Jequier E, Felber JP. Thermogenic response to an oral glucose load in man: comparison between young and elderly subjects. J Am Coll Nutr 1988; 7: 471-483
  • 18 Weststrate JA. Resting metabolic rate and diet-induced thermogenesis: A methodological reappraisal. Am J Clin Nutr 1993; 58: 592-601
  • 19 Segal KR, Edano A, Tomas MB. Thermic effect of a meal over 3 and 6 hours in lean and obese men. Metabolism 1990; 39: 985-992
  • 20 D’Alessio DA, Kavle EC, Mozzoli MA, Smalley KJ, Polansky M, Kendrick ZV, Owen LR, Bushman MC, Boden G, Owen OE. Thermic effect of food in lean and obese men. J Clin Invest 1988; 81: 1781-1789
  • 21 Tai MM, Castillo P, Pi-Sunyer FX. Meal size and frequency: effect on the thermic effect of food. Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 54: 783-787
  • 22 Hill JO, Heymsfield SB, McMannus 3rd C, DiGirolamo M. Meal size and thermic response to food in male subjects as a function of maximum aerobic capacity. Metabolism 1984; 33: 743-749
  • 23 Schutz Y, Bessard T, Jequier E. Diet-induced thermogenesis measured over a whole day in obese and nonobese women. Am J Clin Nutr 1984; 40: 542-552
  • 24 Leene R, van der Kooy K, Deurenberg P, Seidell JC, Weststrate JA, Schouten FJ, Hautvast JG. Visceral fat accumulation in obese subjects: relation to energy expenditure and response to weight loss. Am J Physiol 1992; 263: E913-E919
  • 25 Tchernof A, Calles-Escandon J, Sites CK, Poehlman ET. Menopause, central body fatness, and insulin resistance: effects of hormone-replacement therapy. Coron Artery Dis 1998; 9: 503-511
  • 26 Kunz I, Klaus S, Kallies B, Schorr U, Sharma AM. Kinetic analysis of the thermic effect of food and its relationship to body composition in humans. Metabolism 2000; 49: 1340-1345