In adults hyperinsulinaemia is associated with an atherogenic risk profile including obesity, low levels of HDL-cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides and elevated blood pressure. To examine these associations in the young we studied the cross-sectional relationships of insulin with obesity indices (body mass index, subscapular skinfold thickness), serum lipids and blood pressure in 1,865 children, adolescents and young adults aged 6-24 years. We also used longitudinal data to study the value of a single insulin measurement to predict high risk factor levels and clustering of multiple risk factors after a 6-year follow-up. In cross-sectional analyses the levels of triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and obesity indices were usually significantly different across the quartiles of fasting insulin in both sexes among children, adolescents and young adults. In general, no associations were seen with total cholesterol or LDL-cholesterol. In prospective analysis elevated baseline insulin was related to the incidence of hypertriglyceridaemia (> or = 95th percentile) at the follow-up. This relationship persisted even after adjustments for baseline obesity or 6-year change in obesity status. Moreover, baseline insulin concentration was higher in subjects who subsequently showed clustering of high triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol and high systolic blood pressure levels at the follow-up. We conclude that high fasting insulin levels measured in children and adolescents predict the development of hypertriglyceridaemia years later. In addition, high insulin levels seem to precede the development of a potentially atherogenic risk factor profile including low HDL-cholesterol, high triglycerides and high systolic blood pressure.