Increasing evidence indicates that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and probably asthma are associated with low-grade systemic inflammatory changes. In patients with COPD, systemic inflammation is considered a key factor in the pathogenesis of the multicomponent disease manifestations. Spillover of inflammatory mediators into the circulation is generally considered to be the source of this systemic inflammation. Despite this attractive hypothesis, the nature of systemic inflammation in COPD and asthma remains unclear. Available scientific data challenge the spill-over hypothesis. Interventions with biologicals such as TNF-alpha do not modify local or systemic inflammation in these inflammatory respiratory diseases. Adipose tissue-mediated inflammation is discussed as a connecting link of systemic inflammation in asthma and COPD.