The thermic effect of infused glucose and insulin was measured by combining the hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp technique with indirect calorimetry, in 10 normal weight volunteers (group I), 7 obese subjects with normal glucose tolerance (group II), and 13 obese subjects with abnormal glucose tolerance or noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus before (group IIIa) and after weight loss of 10.8 +/- 0.4 kg (group IIIb). During hyperinsulinemia (760-1,100 pmol/liter), total glucose disposal from combined endogenous production and glucose infusion was 545 +/- 49, 441 +/- 70, 233 +/- 35, 231 +/- 31 mg/min and energy expenditure changed by + 0.476 +/- 0.080, +0.293 +/- 0.095, -0.114 +/- 0.063, and +0.135 +/- 0.082 kJ/min in group I, II, IIIa, and IIIb, respectively. The increased energy expenditure correlated with glucose storage (measured cost of processing the glucose: 1.33 kJ/g). In group IIIa there was no increase in energy expenditure in response to glucose and insulin infusions. After therapy (group IIIb) there was a significant recovery (P less than 0.05) of the thermic effect of infused glucose although total glucose disposal was unchanged. It is proposed that the recovered thermic effect of infused insulin/glucose is due to the different contributions of gluconeogenesis in the fasting state and during the glucose clamp before and after weight loss. In addition we hypothesize that some of the lower thermic effect of food reported in obese noninsulin-dependent diabetics may be explained by decreased energy expenditure due to a greater suppression of hepatic gluconeogenesis as well as by lower storage rate.