Numerous epidemiological studies have related an increased risk of adult-onset cardiovascular and metabolic disease to an adverse intra-uterine environment at critical periods. We have shown that fetal sheep exposed to dexamethasone for only 2 days at 27 days of gestation (term approximate 150 days) became hypertensive adults, whereas those exposed at 64 days of gestation remained normotensive, as did controls. In the same sheep, now nearly 5 years old, we performed glucose tolerance tests and hyperinsulinaemic euglycaemic clamps to study the insulin sensitivity of glucose, amino acid and non-esterified fatty acid metabolism. Glucose tolerance, calculated as the area under the curve, after intravenous administration of bolus glucose and insulin secretion in response to a glucose challenge were not altered in any group. There were no significant differences in the insulin sensitivity of net whole-body glucose or amino acid uptake. However, suppression of lipolysis by insulin, measured as the proportional decrease in the circulating concentration of non-esterified fatty acids during the hyperinsulinaemic clamp, was 69 ± 1.2% at steady-state plasma insulin levels (approximate 1000 m-units/l) in the group exposed to dexamethasone at 27 days of gestation, but only 50.8 ± 6.5% in the controls (P < 0.05). In the group exposed to dexamethasone at 64 days of gestation, the decrease was 66.4 ± 5.1%, which did not reach significance compared with the controls (P = 0.10). Thus brief dexamethasone exposure during early gestation programmed hypertension independently of insulin resistance of glucose or amino acid metabolism; however, it did lead to increased insulin sensitivity of the inhibition of lipolysis, which may increase susceptibility to the development of obesity postnatally.