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This year, resolve to fidget more.

Anyone embarking on a New Year's diet knows the inherent unfairness of weight gain and loss: Some people just don't put on weight, even when they eat a lot. Researchers studying metabolism are now surprised to find that people appear to fidget more when they overeat, burning off some excess calories--and people who stay lean despite over-indulging appear to fidget the most.

To gauge why some people gain weight easily, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tracked 12 men and 4 women, none of whom was obese, for 10 weeks. During the first 2 weeks, the researchers measured the participants' base metabolism rate and caloric needs. Then, each participant went on a diet with 1,000 extra calories per day--roughly a 35 percent boost, equivalent to two double cheeseburgers.

Researchers checked to see that all meals were eaten and even probed the participants' garbage to make sure they weren't skipping dessert.

The participants wore pedometers to measure activity such as walking or stair climbing. A urine test revealed how many calories their bodies were burning.

With these data, researchers were able to apportion how much energy was burned by exercise or base metabolism. The rest must have been burned by "fidgeting"--movements not recorded by the pedometers, such as posture adjustments or desk work, says study coauthor Michael D. Jensen.

While some participants gained 16 pounds, others added only 3, the researchers report in the Jan. 8 SCIENCE. All study participants burned more calories than usual, consistent with other studies of people who are overfed. Since metabolism and exercise didn't account for the change, the researchers fingered fidgeting.

Previous research has hinted at a role for genes in weight gain. A Canadian study of identical twins in 1990 showed that when fed extra calories, some sets of twins gained more than other sets, but the weights of each pair changed in tandem.

Although that research took base metabolism into account, it hadn't measured fidgeting. "That was really the inspiration for this study," Jensen says.

Why some people fidget more than others remains unclear. Not fidgeting might have had survival value in the past, says Elliot Danforth Jr. of the University of Vermont in Burlington. Lackadaisical babies would have survived famines by conserving calories. Since modern people evolved from survivors, most people today don't fidget away extra pounds, he suggests.

Not everyone agrees that fidgeting accounts for the excess calories being burned. Jules Hirsch and his colleagues at Rockefeller University in New York City have used radar to track people's movements and found no correlation between fidgeting and energy consumption. Hirsch says that among overfed people, some just use more calories than others to do the same things.

Eric Ravussin of Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis counters that exercise tests in the new study showed that the weight gains were not related to movement efficiencies of the participants.
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Title Annotation:people who fidget gain less weight than people who do not fidget
Author:Seppa, N.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 9, 1999
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