Adiponectin levels are decreased in subjects with obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease. In the present study, we have investigated whether the decrease in the levels and mRNA expression of adiponectin is due to obesity or to the diet itself. Wistar rats were either fed standard laboratory chow throughout (controls) or given a fat-enriched, glucose-enriched diet (diet-fed) for 2 days or 16 weeks. After 2 days of diet feeding, total body weight, fat pad masses and the plasma levels of glucose, insulin and leptin were all comparable between the two groups, while plasma NEFA (non-esterified fatty acid) and triacylglycerol levels were increased in the diet-fed animals (P<0.01 for both). There was a marked (P<0.01) decrease in plasma adiponectin levels. After 16 weeks of diet feeding, diet-fed rats had significantly higher body weight, fat pad mass and plasma levels of leptin, adiponectin, NEFA and triacylglycerol (P<0.001 for all) compared with chow-fed controls, whereas plasma levels of glucose and insulin were similar in the two groups. After 2 days of diet feeding, there were no significant changes in Ob mRNA levels in epididymal fat, whereas there was a marked decrease in adiponectin mRNA levels. After 16 weeks of diet feeding, rats had significantly increased levels of Ob mRNA, but decreased adiponectin mRNA levels, in epididymal fat compared with the chow-fed group (P<0.001 for both). These findings suggest that obesity per se is not a factor in the decreased adiponectin levels observed in obese subjects. We propose that the lipid profile of the plasma and/or the constituents of the diet consumed by rats may contribute to adiponectin levels more than obesity per se.