1. Three groups of adult men were studied in Bangalore, India: two groups were controls who had been receiving an adequate diet. Of these, one group, designated ‘normal weight controls', had a mean body mass index of 22; the other group, ‘underweight controls', had a mean body mass index of 16.7. The third group consisted of poor labourers, whose daily food intake had been less than 10 MJ and whose mean body mass index was 16.6. Previous studies had shown that such men had a lower basal metabolic rate than well-nourished Indian control subjects.

2. The object of the present study was to find out whether a reduced rate of protein turnover, measured after a single dose of [15N]glycine, contributed to a lower basal metabolic rate. It was found, however, that after adjusting for body weight and fat-free mass by analysis of co-variance there was no significant difference in basal metabolic rate between the three groups. Adjusted rates of protein synthesis were higher in the underweight controls and the undernourished labourers than in the normal weight controls, but not significantly so.

3. Estimates based on creatinine excretion showed that within the fat-free mass the underweight groups had a higher proportion of non-muscle to muscle mass. This may explain the somewhat higher rates of protein turnover in these groups.

4. Nitrogen flux (Q) was determined from 15N abundance in two end products, urea (QU) and ammonia (QA). In the underweight and undernourished groups the ratio QU/QA was increased compared with the normal weight group. This fits in with the finding of a greater proportion of visceral mass in the underweight subjects and with the compartmental model of protein metabolism that we have previously proposed.

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