Asthma severity in relation to body mass index (BMI) has rarely been studied. The relation between BMI and asthma severity was studied by sex in 366 adults with asthma from the Epidemiological Study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma, a case-control and family study on asthma. Factors related to asthma severity and BMI such as smoking, FEV(1), bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and dyspnea were taken into account. The influence of early menarche was studied to assess the potential role of hormonal factors. Clinical asthma severity in the last 12 months was assessed by a score (0-7) based on the frequency of asthma attacks, persisting symptoms between attacks, and hospitalization. Asthma severity, which was unrelated to sex, increased with BMI in women (p = 0.0001) but not in men (p = 0.3). In women, the association remained after adjustment for age, FEV(1), smoking habits, and BMI-adjusted dyspnea and taking into account familial dependence (p = 0.0001). The association between BMI and severity was stronger in women with early menarche than in women without early menarche (p interaction = 0.02). Findings support the hypothesis of hormonal factors involved in the severity of asthma.