Objective: Male Sprague-Dawley rats maintained from birth on a high-fat diet were examined to determine whether a specific measure before puberty can identify and allow one to characterize prepubertal rats at normal weight with high vs low risk for adult obesity. Materials and methods: Measures from weaning (day 21) to around puberty (day 45) were taken of weight gain, absolute body weight and daily energy intake on a high-fat diet and related to the amount of body fat accumulated at maturity (80-100 days of age). Rats identified by a specific prepubertal measure as obesity-prone (OP) vs obesity-resistant (OR) were then characterized before and after puberty. Results: Prepubertal weight gain from days 30 to 35 of age was the strongest and earliest positive correlate of ultimate body fat accrual in adult rats. The highest (8-10 g/day) compared to lowest (5-7 g/day) weight-gain scores identified accurately and reproducibly distinct OP and OR subgroups at day 35 that became obese or remained lean, respectively, as adults. The OP rats with rapid prepubertal weight gain and 50% greater adiposity at maturity (day 100) exhibited the expected phenotype of already-obese rats. These included elevated levels of leptin, insulin, triglycerides and glucose, increased galanin (GAL) peptide levels in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and reduced neuropeptide Y (NPY) levels in the arcuate nucleus (ARC). Before puberty (day 35), the OP rats with normal fat pad weights, energy intake and endocrine profile similar to OR rats exhibited these disturbances characteristic of obese rats. They had decreased capacity for fat oxidation in muscle, increased GAL expression in PVN and reduced expression of NPY and agouti-related protein in ARC. Conclusion: Prepubertal weight gain can identify OP rats on day 35 when they have minimal body fat but exhibit specific metabolic and neurochemical disturbances expected to promote obesity and characteristics of already-obese adult rats. © 2007 Nature Publishing Group All rights reserved.