The incidence of obesity in 1071 total hip arthroplasty (THA) patients and 1813 total knee arthroplasty (TKA) patients and its effect on perioperative morbidity were evaluated prospectively. Fifty-two percent of TKA and 36% of THA patients were obese (body mass index >or=30). The obese patients were significantly younger, with a higher proportion of obese TKA patients being women. Higher rates of diabetes and hypertension were found in obese patients. Higher postoperative infection rates were observed in patients with body mass index 35 or higher. The odds ratio was 6.7 times higher risk for infection in obese TKA patients and 4.2 times higher for obese THA patients. The increased risk of infection in obese patients undergoing total joint arthroplasty must be realized by both the patient and surgeon.