Class II and III obesity (BMI >35 kg?m2 ) have increased dramatically in recent years. Current clinical guidelines suggest diet and exercise as first line treatment for adults throughout the spectrum of overweight and obesity. However, to date there is no systematic review that examines the effects of diet and exercise on this high risk population. This systematic review will examine the combined effects of diet versus diet and exercise on body composition in severe obesity. Medline and Cinahl were searched for randomised controlled trials comparing diet and exercise to diet alone. Studies published until July 2013 were included if they used reliable methods for analysing body composition in adults with BMI = 35 kg?m2 . Five of 459 studies met the inclusion criteria. Two studies, both in older adults, reported that exercise reduced lean mass loss during weight loss. Two studies showed that exercise facilitated (greater) fat mass loss. The remaining study reported no differences in body composition when exercise is added to energy restriction. Exercise training during energy restriction for individuals with BMI =35 kg.m2 may influence body composition outcomes but the evidence is limited. Further studies should focus on the efficacy of different exercise protocols during energy restriction for this population in order to better inform decision making for the treatment of severe obesity in respect to favourable body composition outcomes.