Food modulates gastrointestinal (GI) function and GI symptoms could alter food intake, but it is not established whether or not obese people experience more or less GI symptoms. We aimed at evaluating the association between body mass index (BMI) and specific GI symptoms in the community. Population-based random samples from Sydney, Australia (n = 777) completed a validated questionnaire. The association of each GI symptom with BMI (kg m(-2)) categories was assessed using logistic regression analysis adjusting for potential confounders. The prevalence of obesity (BMI > or =30 kg m(-2)) was 22%. There were univariate associations (adjusting for age, sex, education level, alcohol and smoking) between increased BMI category and heartburn (OR = 1.9, 95% CI 1.4, 2.5), acid regurgitation (OR = 2.1, 95% CI 1.4, 2.9), increased bloating (OR = 1.3, 95%CI 1.1, 1.6), increased stool frequency (OR = 1.4, 95% CI 1.1, 1.7), loose and watery stools (OR = 1.5, 95% CI 1.1, 2.0) and upper abdominal pain (OR = 1.3, 95% CI 1.03, 1.6). Early satiety was associated with a lower BMI category but this was not significant after adjustment (OR = 0.8, 95% CI 0.6, 1.1). Lower abdominal pain, postprandial fullness, nausea and vomiting were not associated with BMI category. In a regression model adjusting for sex, education, smoking, alcohol and all GI symptoms, older age, less early satiety and increased stool frequency and heartburn were all independently associated with increasing BMI (all P < 0.01). Heartburn and diarrhoea were associated with increased BMI, while early satiety was associated with a lower BMI in this population.