OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association between circulating C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations and indices of body fat distribution and the insulin resistance syndrome in South Asians and Europeans. DESIGN:: Cross-sectional study. SUBJECTS: A total of 113 healthy South Asian and European men and women in West London (age 40-55 y, body mass index (BMI) 17-34 kg/m(2)). MEASUREMENTS: Fatness and fat distribution parameters (by anthropometry, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and abdominal CT scan); oral glucose tolerance test with insulin response; modified fat tolerance test; and CRP concentration by sensitive ELISA. RESULTS: Median CRP level in South Asian women was nearly double that in European women (1.35 vs 0.70 mg/1, P=0.05). Measures of obesity and CRP concentration were significantly associated in both ethnic groups. The correlation to CRP was especially strong among South Asians (P<0.01) for measures of central obesity (waist girth and visceral fat area), whereas BMI and percentage fat were more significantly associated with CRP in Europeans (P<0.05). In South Asians the associations of CRP with visceral fat area and waist girth persisted after adjustment for either BMI or percent fat (all, P<0.05). In age-, sex- and smoking-adjusted regression analyses CRP concentrations were significantly associated with fasting and 2 h insulin and lipid levels in both ethnic groups (P<0.05). When further statistical adjustment was made for visceral fat area these associations were abolished (P>0.15). CONCLUSION: We suggest that adiposity and in particular visceral adipose tissue is a key promoter of low-grade chronic inflammation. This observation may in part account for the association of CRP with markers of the metabolic syndrome. Future studies should confirm whether CRP concentrations are elevated in South Asians and whether losing weight by exercise or diet, or reduction in visceral fat mass, is associated with reduction in plasma CRP concentrations.