Adiponectin is inversely related to adiposity and positively correlated with insulin sensitivity (S(i)). Sparse data exist on the contributions of ethnicity and body fat distribution to variance in serum adiponectin. Hypotheses tested were that adiponectin would be lower in African Americans compared with Caucasians; that adiponectin would be inversely related to central, not peripheral, fat; that adiponectin would be positively associated with S(i); and that baseline adiponectin would predict change in S(i) over 2 years in 150 African-American and Caucasian youth. Multiple linear regression modeling showed that adiponectin was lower in African-American versus Caucasian children (adjusted means 10.8 +/- 0.5 vs. 12.3 +/- 0.5 microg/ml, respectively; P < 0.05); inversely related to trunk fat (P < 0.05); and positively related to limb fat (P < 0.01). Addition of the acute insulin response to glucose to the model eliminated the significance of ethnicity. S(i), which was positively related to adiponectin (P < 0.05), was lower in African Americans (P < 0.001) and girls (P < 0.05). Baseline adiponectin did not predict change in S(i) over 2 years. In conclusion, adiponectin was positively correlated with S(i), inversely related to central fat, and positively related to peripheral fat. In addition, higher acute insulin response to glucose explained lower adiponectin among African-American children.