The Harris-Benedict studies of human basal metabolism: History and limitations

David C. Frankenfield, Eric R. Muth, William A. Rowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


In the early part of the 20th century, numerous studies of human basal metabolism were conducted at the Nutrition Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Boston, Mass, under the direction of Francis G. Benedict. Prediction equations for basal energy expenditure (BEE) were developed from these studies. The expressed purpose of these equations was to establish normal standards to serve as a benchmark for comparison with BEE of persons with various disease states such as diabetes, thyroid, and other febrile diseases. The Harris-Benedict equations remain the most common method for calculating BEE for clinical and research purposes. The widespread use of the equations and the relative inaccessibility of the original work highlights the importance of reviewing the data from which the standards were developed. A review of the data reveals that the methods and conclusions of Harris and Benedict appear valid and reasonable, albeit not error free. All of the variables used in the equations have sound physiologic basis for use in predicting BEE. Supplemental data from the Nutrition Laboratory indicates that the original equations can be applied over a wide range of age and body types. The commonly held assumption that the Harris-Benedict equations overestimate BEE in obese persons may not be true for persons who are moderately obese.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-445
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Dietetic Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The Harris-Benedict studies of human basal metabolism: History and limitations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this