In this study the effects of photoperiod and diet, and their interaction, were examined for their effects on growth and body composition in juvenile F344 rats over a 4-week period. On long (16L:8D), relative to short (8L:16D), photoperiod food intake and growth rate were increased, but percentage adiposity remained constant (ca 3-4%). On a high fat diet (HFD), containing 22.8% fat (45% energy as fat), food intake was reduced, but energy intake increased on both photoperiods. This led to a small increase in adiposity (up to 10%) without overt change in body weight. These changes were also reflected in plasma leptin and lipid levels. Importantly while both lean and adipose tissue were strongly regulated by photoperiod on a chow diet, this regulation was lost for adipose, but not lean tissue, on HFD. This implies that a primary effect of photoperiod is the regulation of growth and lean mass accretion. Consistent with this both hypothalamic GHRH gene expression and serum IGF-1 levels were photoperiod dependent. As for other animals and humans, there was evidence of central hyposomatotropism in response to obesity, as GHRH gene expression was suppressed by the HFD. Gene expression of hypothalamic AgRP and CRH, but not NPY nor POMC, accorded with the energy balance status on long and short photoperiod. However, there was a general dissociation between plasma leptin levels and expression of these hypothalamic energy balance genes. Similarly there was no interaction between the HFD and photoperiod at the level of the genes involved in thyroid hormone metabolism (Dio2, Dio3, TSHβ or NMU), which are important mediators of the photoperiodic response. These data suggest that photoperiod and HFD influence body weight and body composition through independent mechanisms but in each case the role of the hypothalamic energy balance genes is not predictable based on their known function.