Melanocortin peptides (adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), alpha-,beta-, and gamma-melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), and fragments thereof) derived from proopiomelanocortin (POMC) have a diverse array of biological activities, many of which have yet to be fully elucidated. The recent cloning of a family of five distinct melanocortin receptors through which these peptides act has provided the tools to further our understanding of melanocortin peptide functions. Early work on melanocortin peptides focused on their roles in pigmentation, adrenocortical function, the immune, central and peripheral nervous systems. Although melanocortin peptides have long been known to affect lipolysis, characterisation of the melanocortin receptors has opened up several lines of evidence for important roles in the development of obesity, insulin resistance and type II diabetes. We present here a review of the current evidence for melanocortin peptides playing such a role, and based on this evidence, a model for melanocortin peptides and their receptors in maintaining energy balance.