Cephalic-phase insulin release (CPIR) and its relation to postprandial insulin release were examined in 18 normal-weight and 15 obese men. When the insulin data were expressed as absolute differences from baseline values, obese subjects exhibited significantly greater CPIR than normal-weight subjects (normals, 8.7 +/- 2.1 microU/mL/10 min; obese, 13.4 +/- 4.3 microU/mL/10 min; P < .01). Obese subjects were then separated into groups depending on their fasting insulin levels. This showed that only those subjects with elevated fasting insulin levels exhibited greater CPIR than normal subjects, and suggested that previous reports of exaggerated CPIR in the obese are merely a reflection of a basal hypersecretion of insulin. However, when insulin values were expressed as percentages of baseline, no significant differences between normal-weight and obese subjects were found, although a trend toward an attenuated response was observed in the obese group as a whole (normals, 81.6 +/- 19.1 microU/mL/10 min; obese, 51.3 +/- 16.1 microU/mL/10 min). A significant correlation between cephalic-phase and postprandial insulin release was found in normal-weight subjects (r = .62, P < .05), but not in obese subjects (r = .02, P < .9).