The use of dietary fat in preference to carbohydrate offers the theoretic advantage of diminishing carbon dioxide production and thus the respiratory quotient, which may be beneficial for babies with chronic lung disease. Ten premature infants (birth weight (mean +/- SEM), 1.13 +/- 0.12 kg; postnatal age, 9 +/- 1 weeks) with bronchopulmonary dysplasia were alternately fed a high-fat and a high-carbohydrate formula each for 1 week, in randomized order. Lower rates of carbon dioxide production (6.6 +/- 0.3 versus 7.4 +/- 0.4 ml/kg per minute; p < 0.05), and consequently lower respiratory quotients (0.80 +/- 0.02 versus 0.94 +/- 0.01 ml/kg per minute; p < 0.005), were observed during the administration of the high-fat formula. There were no significant differences in results of pulmonary function tests with the use of either formula. Both formulas were equally well tolerated and able to promote adequate growth and normal biochemical profiles. However, weight gain was significantly greater with the administration of the high-carbohydrate formula, possibly because of an increase in the accretion of body fat. We conclude that the short-term use of high-fat formula for infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia decreases carbon dioxide production while maintaining adequate growth and nutritional status.