Studies have shown a positive association between obesity and knee osteoarthritis. Studies evaluating hand or hip osteoarthritis and weight, however, have assessed x-ray osteoarthritis or been cross-sectional, or both, and results of these have been inconsistent. We assessed the association between body weight, body mass index, and incident symptomatic osteoarthritis in 134 matched case-control pairs of women who were part of a case-control study on estrogen replacement therapy and osteoarthritis. We identified incident symptomatic osteoarthritis cases of the hand, hip, and knee in women ages 20-89 years who were members of a health plan between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1993. For each case we selected a control woman who was matched by closest date of birth to the case. Medical records were reviewed to obtain weight and height information for the period before disease onset. After controlling for estrogen use, smoking status, height, and health care use, we found that body weight was a predictor of incident osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee. Odds ratios ranged from 3.0 to 10.5 for women in the upper tertiles of weight compared with women in the lowest tertile. Similar associations were observed for body mass index. Our results suggest that obesity is associated with the development of incident osteoarthritis at all joints studied.