Insulin secretion rates can be accurately estimated from plasma C-peptide levels with a two-compartment model for C-peptide distribution and degradation. In previous studies, the kinetic parameters of C-peptide clearance were derived in each subject from the decay curve observed after bolus intravenous injection of biosynthetic human C-peptide. To determine whether standard parameters for C-peptide clearance could be defined and used to calculate insulin secretion without obtaining a decay curve in each subject, we analyzed 200 decay curves of biosynthetic human C-peptide obtained in normal, obese, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus subjects studied in our laboratory. This analysis showed that the volume of distribution and kinetic parameters of C-peptide distribution and metabolism vary by less than 30% in a population highly heterogeneous in terms of age, sex, degree of obesity, and degree of glucose tolerance. The volume of distribution correlated with the degree of obesity as quantified by body surface area (BSA). This dependence of C-peptide distribution volume on BSA was more marked in men than in women. The long half-life was slightly longer in elderly subjects than in younger adults. When effects of BSA, sex, and age were taken into account, the parameters of C-peptide kinetics were very similar in normal, obese, and diabetic subjects. Based on these findings, a simple procedure to derive standard parameters for C-peptide clearance taking into account degree of obesity, sex, and age was defined. These standard parameters resulted in estimations of mean insulin secretion rates, which differed in each subject by only 10-12% from those obtained with individual parameters. The approach of using standard rather than individual parameters did not systematically underestimate or overestimate insulin secretion so that group values for the fasting secretion rate, the mean 24-h secretion rate, and the number and the amplitude of secretory pulses obtained with standard parameters differed by only 1-2% from the values obtained with individual parameters. Furthermore, the accuracy of measurements based on standard parameters was not different from that associated with replicate determinations of the parameters of C-peptide clearance in the same subject. We conclude that it is possible to estimate insulin secretion rates from plasma C-peptide levels with standard parameters for C-peptide clearance rather than individually derived parameters without significant loss of accuracy.