Obesity has long been recognized as a major risk factor for the development of hypertension. Recently, insulin level has been shown to correlate with blood pressure in clinical and population-based studies. Since insulin is a major signal in the relationship between dietary intake and sympathetic nervous system activity, the possibility that insulin-mediated sympathetic stimulation is involved in the pathogenesis of hypertension in the obese has been raised. This hypothesis, developed on the basis of studies in laboratory rodents and normal human subjects, is currently being tested in the Normative Aging Study in Boston. Utilizing epidemiologic techniques applied to this defined population, evidence in support of this hypothesis has been accumulated. The preliminary results indicate that in this population, the abdominal form of obesity is associated with higher insulin levels and increased 24-hour urinary norepinephrine excretion (an index of sympathetic activity).