This study aimed to determine whether vital exhaustion (VE) was associated with BMI cross-sectionally and after 3 and 6 years of follow-up. Extant data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study were used to examine the relationship between VE and BMI among 13,727 white and African-American adults cross-sectionally (baseline) and longitudinally (3 and 6 years later). We used adjusted and nonadjusted general linear regression models. Associations with excess weight gain (>or=5.0%) were also examined using logistic regression. Results showed that BMI was significantly higher among both white and African-American men and women in the highest VE quartile compared to those with no VE. Similarly, high VE at baseline was associated with higher BMI 3 and 6 years later, although VE was not able to predict future BMI after adjusting for baseline BMI. Baseline VE predicted future excess weight gain in white men and women, but not in African Americans. These results suggest that reducing VE levels may play an important role in reducing the prevalence of obesity. High VE was associated with higher current BMI (all races) and excess weight gain (whites only). Although high VE predicted future weight gain without baseline BMI adjustment, the magnitude of change in BMI over time was similar among those with low and high VE; suggesting that any relationship between VE and BMI was already established at baseline. Assessment of VE and BMI over time would help to elucidate uncertainties between the temporal nature of the relationship between them.