PURPOSE OF THE REVIEW. This review of the literature examines the relationship between abdominal fat distribution and specific health outcome measures, modifiable risk factors, the impact of intervention efforts, and the significance of measurement methods. SEARCH METHODS USED. The research material that was received was found through several on-line data bases, including MEDLINE and CINAHL, an examination of references from selected articles, a manual review of recent relevant journals, and interviews with several physicians and epidemiologists who are experts in this field of inquiry. Forty-three research articles were reviewed for the section on health risk outcomes and abdominal fat distribution. Twenty studies were reviewed in the section on modifiable variables associated with fat distribution. Finally, 10 studies which examined the effect of behavior change on fat distribution were included in this review. SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT FINDINGS. Recent research indicates that people whose body fat is deposited more in the central or abdominal area, especially the intra-abdominal area, than it is in the gluteofemoral area are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This risk is independent of, but exacerbated by, the degree of obesity. Several nonmodifiable factors such as age, gender, and menopause as well as some modifiable factors such as obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, and alcohol intake are positively associated with abdominal fat deposition. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS. Intervention results indicate that it is possible to decrease abdominal fat with total weight loss or smoking cessation.