To study the role of opioid peptides in human obesity, plasma beta-endorphin (beta EP), beta-lipotropin (beta LPH), and cortisol resting values, circadian rhythms, and responses to hypoglycemia were studied in 6 prepubertal and 6 pubertal obese adolescents (at least 40% above ideal body weight) and in 10 normal subjects matched for age, sex, and pubertal development. Baseline plasma beta LPH and beta EP concentrations in both obese children and adolescents were twice as high as those in normal controls, while cortisol levels were not different. Cortisol, beta EP, and beta LPH levels had a clear circadian rhythmicity in all subjects, with the exception of obese pubertal boys whose plasma beta EP concentrations were constant throughout the day. After insulin administration, the fall in blood sugar was similar in all groups. Plasma cortisol and beta EP responses were similar in both obese and normal prepubertal subjects. In obese pubertal adolescents, beta EP did not increase significantly after hypoglycemia, although it did increase in normal weight pubertal subjects. In normal prepubertal subjects, the circadian rhythms of beta EP and beta LPH secretion and release induced by hypoglycemia suggest the presence of a well developed neuroendocrine control of proopiomelanocortin-related peptide secretion. In prepubertal obese children, the increased plasma beta EP and beta LPH levels with the maintenance of their circadian rhythm and responsivity to hypoglycemia suggest overactivity of anterior pituitary secretion. In obese adolescents, in spite of the normal rhythm of beta LPH and cortisol, beta EP levels did not change throughout the day, thus suggesting beta EP secretion from nonpituitary sources in these subjects. The present study indicates a possible direct role for hyperendorphinemia in the induction of overeating in obese children and adolescents.