The effect of glucocorticoid administration on energy metabolism and food intake was studied in 20 healthy, nondiabetic Caucasian male volunteers [27 +/- 5 (SD) yr, 72 +/- 9 kg, 20 +/- 7% body fat] randomly and blindly assigned to glucocorticoid (methylprednisolone, METH; n = 10) or placebo (PLAC; n = 10) treatment. Each subject was studied twice: during a weight maintenance diet and during ad libitum food intake. Energy metabolism was measured by indirect calorimetry and food intake by an automated food-selection system. Twenty-four-hour urinary norepinephrine excretion (24-h NE) was used as an estimate of sympathetic nervous system activity. During weight maintenance, METH intravenous infusion (125 mg/30 min) increased energy expenditure compared with PLAC, and after 4 days of oral therapy, METH (40 mg/day) decreased 24-h NE and increased energy expenditure compared with PLAC. During ad libitum food intake, after 4 days of METH (40 mg/day) or PLAC oral therapy, both groups increased their energy intake over weight maintenance, but the increase was significantly larger in the METH group compared with the PLAC group (4,554 +/- 1,857 vs. 2,867 +/- 846 kcal/day; P = 0.04). Our data suggest that therapeutic doses of glucocorticoids induce obesity mostly by increasing energy intake, an effect which may be related to the ability of glucocorticoids to act directly or indirectly on the central regulation of appetite.