Subclinical, low-grade systemic inflammation has been observed in patients with type 2 diabetes and in those at increased risk of the disease. This may be more than an epiphenomenon. Alleles of genes encoding immune/inflammatory mediators are associated with the disease, and the two major environmental factors the contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes-diet and physical activity-have a direct impact on levels of systemic immune mediators. In animal models, targeting of immune genes enhanced or suppressed the development of obesity or diabetes. Obesity is associated with the infiltration and proinflammatory activity of macrophages in adipose tissue, and immune mediators may be important regulators of insulin resistance, mitochondrial function, ectopic lipid storage and beta cell dysfunction or death. Intervention studies targeting these pathways would help to determine the contribution of an activated innate immune system to the development of type 2 diabetes.