Recent studies consistently support a hypoxia response in the adipose tissue in obese animals. The observations have led to the formation of an exciting concept, adipose tissue hypoxia (ATH), in the understanding of major disorders associated with obesity. ATH may provide cellular mechanisms for chronic inflammation, macrophage infiltration, adiponectin reduction, leptin elevation, adipocyte death, endoplasmic reticulum stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in white adipose tissue in obesity. The concept suggests that inhibition of adipogenesis and triglyceride synthesis by hypoxia may be a new mechanism for elevated free fatty acids in the circulation in obesity. ATH may represent a unified cellular mechanism for a variety of metabolic disorders and insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome. It suggests a new mechanism of pathogenesis of insulin resistance and inflammation in obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, it may help us to understand the beneficial effects of caloric restriction, physical exercise and angiotensin II inhibitors in the improvement of insulin sensitivity. In this review article, literatures are reviewed to summarize the evidence and possible cellular mechanisms of ATH. The directions and road blocks in the future studies are analyzed.