Controversy exists as to whether endogenous cortisol production is associated with visceral obesity and insulin resistance in humans. We therefore quantified cortisol production and clearance rates, abdominal fat depots, insulin sensitivity, and adipocyte gene expression in a cohort of 24 men. To test whether the relationships found are a consequence rather than a cause of obesity, eight men from this larger group were studied before and after weight loss. Daily cortisol production rates (CPR), free cortisol levels (FC), and metabolic clearance rates (MCR) were measured by stable isotope methodology and 24-h sampling; intra-abdominal fat (IAF) and subcutaneous fat (SQF) by computed tomography; insulin sensitivity (S(I)) by frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test; and adipocyte 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-1 (11beta-HSD-1) gene expression by quantitative RT-PCR from subcutaneous biopsies. Increased CPR and FC correlated with increased IAF, but not SQF, and with decreased S(I). Increased 11beta-HSD-1 gene expression correlated with both IAF and SQF and with decreased S(I). With weight loss, CPR, FC, and MCR did not change compared with baseline; however, with greater loss in body fat than lean mass during weight loss, both CPR and FC increased proportionally to final fat mass and IAF and 11beta-HSD-1 decreased compared with baseline. These data support a model in which increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity in men promotes selective visceral fat accumulation and insulin resistance and may promote weight regain after diet-induced weight loss, whereas 11beta-HSD-1 gene expression in SQF is a consequence rather than cause of adiposity.