The triglyceride content of skeletal muscle samples determined by lipid extraction correlates with the severity of insulin-resistant glucose metabolism in muscle. To determine whether this reflects increased triglyceride within muscle fibers and to test the hypothesis that the lipid content in muscle fibers is increased in obesity, the present study was undertaken using quantitative histochemistry of Oil Red O staining of vastus lateralis muscle. A percutaneous muscle biopsy was performed in 9 lean subjects, 15 obese subjects without type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM), and 10 obese subjects with type 2 DM (body mass index [BMI], 23.4+/-1.0, 33.6+/-0.6, and 36.0+/-1.1 kg x m(-2) for lean, obese, and DM, respectively). Eight obese and 7 DM subjects had a weight loss and reassessment of muscle lipid content. Transverse muscle cryosections were examined by light microscopy with quantitative image analysis (grayscale images obtained by analog to digital conversion) to determine a lipid accumulation index (LAI) based on the percentage of cross-sectional fiber area occupied by lipid droplets. Muscle fiber lipid content was greater in obese individuals with DM than in lean individuals (3.62%+/-0.65% v 1.42%+/-0.28%, P < .05) but was not different in obese individuals without DM (2.53%+/-0.41%). Weight loss reduced the LAI from 3.43%+/-0.53% to 2.35%+/-0.31%. In summary, lipid accumulation within muscle fibers is significantly increased in obesity and is reduced by weight loss. This provides important information regarding the accumulation and distribution of skeletal muscle triglyceride in type 2 DM and obesity.