This review examines the proximate, ecological, and evolutionary determinants of energy expenditure in humans and primates, with an emphasis on empirical measurements of total energy expenditure (TEE). Body size is the main proximate determinant of TEE, both within and between species; physical activity, genetic variation, and endocrine regulation explain substantially less of the variation in TEE. Basal metabolism is the single largest component of TEE, far exceeding the cost of physical activity, digestion, growth and reproduction, and thermoregulation in most instances. Notably, differences in physical activity do not generally result in corresponding differences in TEE, undermining the utility of activity-based factorial estimates of TEE. Instead, empirical measurements of energy expenditure in humans and other primates suggest that the body adapts dynamically to long-term changes in physical activity, maintaining TEE within an evolved, and relatively narrow, physiological range.


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