We aimed to investigate the metabolism of chylomicron remnants in the postabsorptive state employing a new stable isotope breath test in centrally obese men without overt hyperlipidaemia. Groups of 12 centrally obese and 12 non-obese men of similar age and with similar plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol (triglyceride) levels were studied. The catabolism of chylomicron remnants was measured using an intravenous injection of a remnant-like emulsion containing cholesteryl [C-13]Oleate. Isotopic enrichment of (CO2)-C-13 in breath was determined using isotope-ratio mass spectrometry, and a multi-compartmental model (SAAM II program) was used to estimate the fractional catabolic rate (FCR) of the chylomicron remnant-like particles. The plasma concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol and insulin were significantly higher (P <0.05) in the obese than the control subjects. The obese subjects had significantly lower HDL-cholesterol (P <0.05) and, in particular, a decreased FCR of the remnant-like particles compared with lean subjects (0.061 +/- 0.014 and 0.201 +/- 0.048 pools/h respectively; P = 0.016). In the obese group, the FCR of remnant-like particles was inversely associated with the waist/hip ratio, and with plasma triacylglycerol, cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and non-HDL-cholesterol levels. In multiple regression analysis, the waist/hip ratio was the best predictor of the FCR of the emulsion. In conclusion, this new test suggests that postabsorptive chylomicron remnant catabolism is impaired in centrally obese subjects without overt hyperlipidaemia. This defect may be due to the degree of adiposity.