Fistula use for dialysis is less frequent among obese than non-obese patients. This discrepancy may be due to a lower rate of fistula placement in obese patients, a higher primary failure rate (fistulas that are never usable for dialysis), or a higher secondary failure rate (fistulas that fail after being used successfully for dialysis). Using a prospective, computerized vascular access database, we identified all patients receiving a first fistula or graft at our institution during a 2-year period. The access outcomes were compared between obese (body mass index (BMI) >or=30 kg/m2) and non-obese (BMI<30 kg/m2) patients. Fistula placement was equally likely between obese and non-obese patients (47.4 vs 47.1%). The primary failure rate of fistulas was similar in both groups (46 vs 41%, P=0.45). Among those fistulas that were usable for dialysis, the secondary survival was worse in obese patients (hazard ratio 2.74; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.48-7.90; P=0.004). Secondary fistula survival in obese vs non-obese patients was 68 vs 92% at 1 year, 59 vs 78% at 2 years, and 47 vs 70% at 3 years. On multiple variable survival analysis with age, sex, race, diabetes, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, fistula location, surgeon, and obesity in the model, obesity was the only significant factor predicting secondary fistula failure (hazards ratio 2.93; 95% CI, 1.44-5.93; P=0.004). In conclusion, long-term fistula survival is worse in obese than non-obese patients, owing to a higher secondary failure rate.