Obesity and type 2 diabetes arise from a set of complex gene–environment interactions. Explanations for the heritability of these syndromes and the environmental contribution to disease susceptibility are addressed by the “thrifty genotype” and the “thrifty phenotype” hypotheses. Here, the merits of both models are discussed and elements of them are used to synthesize a “thrifty epigenotype” hypothesis. I propose that: (1) metabolic thrift, the capacity for efficient acquisition, storage and use of energy, is an ancient, complex trait, (2) the environmentally responsive gene network encoding this trait is subject to genetic canalization and thereby has become robust against mutational perturbations, (3) DNA sequence polymorphisms play a minor role in the aetiology of obesity and type 2 diabetes—instead, disease susceptibility is predominantly determined by epigenetic variations, (4) corresponding epigenotypes have the potential to be inherited across generations, and (5) Leptin is a candidate gene for the acquisition of a thrifty epigenotype. BioEssays 30:156–166, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.