Climatic influences on basal metabolic rates among circumpolar populations

William R. Leonard*, Mark V. Sorensen, Victoria A. Galloway, Gary J. Spencer, M. J. Mosher, Ludmilla Osipova, Victor A. Spitsyn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


This article examines evidence for elevations in basal metabolic rate (BMR) among indigenous Northern (circumpolar) populations and considers potential mechanisms and the adaptive basis for such elevations. Data on BMR among indigenous (n = 109 males; 122 females) and nonindigenous (n = 15 males; 22 females) circumpolar groups of North America and Siberia are compiled and compared to predicted BMRs based on three different references: body surface area (Consolazio et al., 1963), body mass (Schofield, 1985), and fat-free mass (Poehlman and Toth, 1995). Regardless of which reference is used, indigenous circumpolar groups show systematic and statistically significant elevations in BMR ranging from +7% to +19% above predicted values for indigenous men and from +3 to +17% for indigenous women. Nonindigenous males also show elevations in BMR, although not to the same extent as in indigenous men (deviations = +3 to +14%), whereas nonindigenous females show no clear evidence of elevated BMRs (deviations = -7 to +5%). This pattern of variation between indigenous and nonindigenous groups suggests that both functional and genetic factors play a role in metabolic adaptation to northern climes. Recent studies on the ecology and genetics of thyroid function offer insights into the mechanisms through which indigenous circumpolar populations may regulate metabolic rates. Studies of seasonal variation in thyroid hormone levels suggest that indigenous circumpolar populations may have a greater capacity to elevate BMR during severe cold than nonindigenous groups. Recent twin studies indicate a significant genetic component of thyroid responses to environmental stressors. Further research exploring the genetics of seasonal variation in thyroid function and BMR among circumpolar groups would advance understanding of the role that selection may have played in shaping metabolic variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-620
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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