The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to examine the risk associations between obesity indexes [body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC)], cardiovascular risk factors [plasma glucose and lipids, blood pressure and urinary albumin excretion (UAE)] and morbidity conditions (Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and/or albuminuria) in Hong Kong Chinese. Seven-hundred and two Hong Kong Chinese subjects (18-65 years of age, 59.4% of whom had at least one morbidity condition) were recruited from the Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong SAR. The measurements taken of the subjects included: height; weight; waist and hip circumferences; blood pressure; fasting plasma glucose and lipids; and 24-h UAE. The mean BMI was 22.4 and 25.7 kg m(-2) in healthy subjects and patients, respectively. The mean WC measurements of healthy subjects and patients were 77.1 and 86.4 cm in males and 71.0 and 81.8 cm in females, respectively. There were increasing trends between obesity indexes and the severity of cardiovascular risk factors and the prevalence of morbidity conditions (all P-values for trend <0.05). Using 19.0-20.9 kg m(-2) and <70 cm as a referent, subjects with a BMI of > or =25.0 kg m(-2) (in both sexes) and/or a WC of > or =85 cm in males and > or =75 cm in females had an age-adjusted odds ratio between 3.2 and 4.4 for the occurrence of at least one morbidity condition. Patients with a greater number of comorbidities also had higher BMI and WC measurements (all P-values for the trend were <0.05 with adjustment for age and gender). Hence, despite Hong Kong Chinese being less obese than Caucasians, the intimate relationships among obesity, cardiovascular risk factors and morbidity conditions remain. Our data support using lower BMI and WC levels to define obesity and its associated health risks rather than using the criteria established from Caucasians who generally have larger body frames.