Insulin resistance is linked to general and abdominal obesity, but its relation to hepatic lipid content and pericardial adipose tissue is less clear. The purpose of this study was to examine cross-sectional associations of liver attenuation, pericardial adipose tissue, BMI, and waist circumference with insulin resistance. We measured liver attenuation and pericardial adipose tissue using the existing cardiac computed tomography scans in 5,291 individuals free of clinical cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) during the study's baseline visit (2000-2002). Low liver attenuation was defined as the lowest quartile and high pericardial adipose tissue as the upper quartile of volume (cm(3)). We used standard clinical definitions for obesity and abdominal obesity. Insulin resistance was assessed by the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA(IR)) index. In multivariate linear regression with all adiposity measures in the model simultaneously, all adiposity measures were significantly (P < 0.0001) associated with insulin resistance: regression coefficients (±s.e.) were 0.31 (±0.02) for low liver attenuation, 0.27 (±0.02) for high pericardial adipose tissue, 0.27 (±0.02) for obesity, and 0.32 (±0.02) for abdominal obesity. We found significant differences (P = 0.003) between standardized liver attenuation and insulin resistance by ethnicity: regression coefficients per 1 s.d. increment were 0.10 ± 0.01 for whites, 0.11 ± 0.02 for Chinese, 0.08 ± 0.2 for blacks, and 0.14 ± 0.01 for Hispanics. Liver attenuation and pericardial adipose tissue were associated with insulin resistance, independent of BMI and waist circumference.