Obesity is linked with many deleterious health consequences and is associated with increased risk of chronic disease including type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and certain forms of cancer. Recent work has highlighted the impact of obesity to activate inflammatory gene networks and suggests a causal function of inflammation in the pathogenesis of the metabolic syndrome. Since 2005, when Dr Gokhan Hotamisligil chaired the fourth Stock Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, entitled ‘Obesity and Inflammation’, there has been an explosion of studies investigating the relationship between obesity, inflammation and substrate metabolism. The exuberance surrounding this field of research is exemplified by the body of work that has been published in these past 4 years, including over 1400 publications. During this time, several novel mechanisms relating to cellular inflammation have been uncovered including the role of the hematopoietic system, toll-like receptor activation, endoplasmic reticulum stress and very recently T-cell activation in obesity-induced insulin resistance. These discoveries have led us to rethink cellular nutrient sensing and its role in inflammation and metabolic disease. Despite burgeoning investigation in this field, there still remain a number of unanswered questions. This review that evolved from the 2009 Stock Conference summarizes current research and identifies the deficiencies in our understanding of this topic. The overall goal of this Stock Conference was to bring together leading investigators in the field of inflammation and obesity research in the hope of fostering new ideas, thus advancing the pursuit of novel therapeutic strategies to reduce disease risk and or better treat chronic disease including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.