This prospective study was designed to identify abnormalities of energy expenditure and fuel utilization which distinguish post-obese women from never-obese controls. 24 moderately obese, postmenopausal, nondiabetic women with a familial predisposition to obesity underwent assessments of body composition, fasting and postprandial energy expenditure, and fuel utilization in the obese state and after weight loss (mean 12.9 kg) to a post-obese, normal-weight state. The post-obese women were compared with 24 never-obese women of comparable age and body composition. Four years later, without intervention, body weight was reassessed in both groups. Results indicated that all parameters measured in the post-obese women were similar to the never-obese controls: mean resting energy expenditure, thermic effect of food, and fasting and postprandial substrate oxidation and insulin-glucose patterns. Four years later, post-obese women regained a mean of 10.9 kg while control subjects remained lean (mean gain 1.7 kg) (P < 0.001 between groups). Neither energy expenditure nor fuel oxidation correlated with 4-yr weight changes, whereas self-reported physical inactivity was associated with greater weight regain. The data suggest that weight gain in obesity-prone women may be due to maladaptive responses to the environment, such as physical inactivity or excess energy intake, rather than to reduced energy requirements.