There are great tales in the medical literature if you look for them.  In the 1930’s – the early days of metabolic research – a

Metabolic Rates in the American South in the 1930s: Did Researchers Measure the Origins of the Obesity Epidemic?

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2022-05-15 09:30:05

There are great tales in the medical literature if you look for them.  In the 1930’s – the early days of metabolic research – a sort of North-South challenge presented itself.  An SEC-Big 10 challenge of metabolic rates (For those who are not American college football fans, the SEC is a Southern Conference and the Big 10 a Northern one and they play each other each year) amongst young college women. 

The issue was that basal metabolic rates (BMR) in college women in the South were consistently 10-15% lower than of college women in the North.  

Several equations for predicting basal metabolic rate based on height, weight, gender and age were published before 1920, most prominently the Harris-Benedict equation​1​ – developed at Wellesley college in Massachusetts – and the DuBois equation​2​ – developed at Weill Medical college in New York City.  In 1922, Walter Boothby and Irene Sandiford published, “Summary of the basal metabolism data on 8,614 subjects with especial reference to the normal standards for the estimation of the basal metabolic rate.”​3​   This was a large study done in Minnesota showing that indeed, the DuBois and Harris-Benedict equations correctly predicted the basal metabolic rates of normal, healthy adults to within plus or minus 10 percent.

I particularly enjoy the handmade graphs from this paper.  The middle line represents people whose BMR are perfectly predicted by the specified equation.  The top dark line is people whose BMR is 10% higher than the equation predicts and the lower dark line is people whose BMR is 10% lower than the equation predicts.  As you can see, 90% of all people fall within the dark lines and those who fall outside of it don’t do so by much.

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