The objective of the present work was to assess the relationship between serum Se concentrations and environmental determinants (i.e. lifestyle, social activity, geographic region, urban status, education, familial status, physical activity, BMI, tobacco, and food and alcohol consumption). Baseline results from 13 017 subjects (7876 women aged 35-60 and 5141 men aged 45-60) who participated in the SU.VI.M.AX (Supplémentation en Vitamines et Minéraux Antioxydants) study were analysed. Fewer than 2 % of the volunteers had a serum Se status under 0.75 micromol/l, which has been quoted as the cut-off of biological Se sub-deficiency. Women had significantly lower serum Se concentrations than men (1.09 (sd 0.19) micromol/l (n 7423) and 1.14 (sd 0.20) micromol/l (n 4915), P<0.0001, respectively). Significant differences in serum Se concentrations were observed between geographic areas. In both sexes, the serum Se concentration increased with alcohol, meat and fish consumption, and decreased with smoking. In premenopausal women, the serum Se concentration was higher in contraceptive-pill users than in non-users. In women only, age was associated with increased serum Se concentrations, and obesity (BMI> or =30 kg/m2) was associated with decreased serum Se levels. In men, we observed a decrease in serum Se concentrations with increased consumption of vegetables and fruits. In conclusion, though few of the volunteers participating in the SU.VI.M.AX study had Se status in the sub-deficiency range, 83 % of women and 75 % of men had serum concentrations below the value considered optimal for glutathione peroxidase activity. The largest Se associations in both sexes were found with regions, smoking, alcohol, meat and fish consumption. Further studies are needed to understand the difference in Se status between genders.