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Objective: Obesity is a prevalent condition in industrialized societies and is increasing around the world. We sought to assess the relative importance of resting energy expenditure (REE) and activity EE (AEE) in two populations with different rates of obesity.

Methods and Procedures: Women of African descent between 18 and 59 years of age were recruited from rural Nigeria and from metropolitan Chicago. Total EE (TEE) was measured using the doubly labeled water (DLW) technique and REE by indirect calorimetry; AEE was calculated as the difference between TEE and the sum of REE plus a factor for the thermic effect of food. In the analyses all EE parameters were adjusted for body size using a regression method. Comparisons were made between the groups and associations between EE and adiposity examined.

Results: A total of 149 Nigerian and 172 African-American women completed the protocol. All body size measurements were lower in the Nigerian women. Adjusted TEE and REE were higher in the Nigerian cohort but adjusted AEE did not differ significantly. Adjustment for parity, seasonality, and recent illness did not modify mean AEE or adiposity. In neither cohort was there a meaningful association between measures of AEE and adiposity.

Discussion: In these cohorts of women from very different environments, AEE did not differ significantly nor was it associated cross-sectionally with adiposity. If generalizable, these findings suggest that reduction in AEE may have less of a role in the development of obesity than anticipated. The possibility remains that variation in type and duration of activity plays a role not captured by total AEE.