There is a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus and coronary artery disease among urban and migrant Asian Indians despite the absence of traditional risk factors. Evidence exists that Asian Indians are more hyperinsulinemic than Caucasians and that hyperinsulinemia may be important in the development of these diseases. To test whether insulin action was related to total or regional adiposity and to explore the potential role of plasma leptin and lipids, we measured insulin-mediated glucose disposal by the euglycemic insulin clamp, adipose distribution and muscle volume using computed axial tomography, and fasting serum leptin and lipid levels in 20 healthy Asian Indian male volunteers (age, 36 +/- 10 yr). A mean body mass index of 24.5 +/- 2.5 kg/m2 was associated with an unusually high percentage of body fat (33 +/- 7%). The majority of the fat was sc, and 16% was visceral (intraabdominal) adipose tissue. The majority (66%) of these nonobese men were insulin resistant. The mean fasting serum leptin level was 7.6 +/- 3.3 ng/mL. Insulin action was inversely correlated with visceral adipose tissue, not total or abdominal sc adipose tissue. In contrast, leptin levels correlated with sc and total (not visceral) adipose tissue. Serum triglyceride and high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were inversely correlated with each other and were directly related to insulin resistance and visceral (not subcutaneous) fat. Increased visceral fat in Asian Indians is associated with increased generalized obesity, which is not apparent from their nonobese body mass index. Increased visceral fat is related to dyslipidemia and increased frequency of insulin resistance and may account for the increased prevalence of diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease in Asian Indians.