Obesity is frequently associated with a dyslipidaemic state. Several metabolic and epidemiological studies published in the 1980s have, however, emphasized the importance of considering the regional distribution of body fat in the assessment of the health hazards of obesity. The development of imaging techniques such as computed tomography has also allowed it to be established that the fat located in the abdominal cavity, i.e. the visceral adipose tissue, was the critical correlate of the metabolic complications found in abdominal obesity which include insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia, glucose intolerance, hypertriglyceridaemia, hypoalphalipoproteinaemia and increased concentrations of dense LDL particles. Furthermore, since several genes are involved in the regulation of plasma lipoprotein-lipid levels and they have been reported to show polymorphism, visceral obesity should be considered as a permissive factor that exacerbates an individual's susceptibility to dyslipidaemia and premature coronary heart disease rather than a primary regulator of the dyslipidaemic state observed in visceral obese patients. Finally, as insulin resistance and the level of visceral adipose tissue are two main correlates of the dyslipidaemic state which characterizes abdominal obesity, treatment should be aimed at reducing visceral fat and improving insulin sensitivity. Prospective studies are clearly warranted to evaluate the potential benefits of such interventions on the incidence of coronary heart disease.