Obesity, defined by an excess of adipose tissue, is often associated with the development of various metabolic diseases. The increased and inappropriate deposition of this tissue contributes to hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, insulin resistance, endothelial dysfunction and chronic inflammation. Recent evidence suggests that factors expressed and secreted by the adipose tissue, adipokines, may contribute to the development of these abnormalities by mechanisms including inhibition of adipogenesis, adipocyte hypertrophy and death, immune cell infiltration and disruption of tissue metabolism. The presence of adipokine receptors in adipocytes renders these cells available to autocrine and paracrine effects of adipokines. In this review the reported local effects of adipokines on adipose tissue structure, inflammation and regulation of metabolic functions, in the face of over-nutrition and consequent obesity, are outlined. Elucidating the local regulation of white adipocyte development and function could help in the design of effective, tissue-specific therapies for obesity-associated diseases.