The aim of the present study was to investigate the relationships of physical activity types and sedentary behaviour with BMI and waist circumference (WC). The sample comprised 6215 adults (2775 men, 3440 women) aged 16 years and over living in Scotland. Self-reported physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity (MVIA) included domestic activity, walking, and sports and exercises. MVIA levels were classified as being inactive, being insufficiently active, being sufficiently active for general health benefits and being sufficiently active for obesity prevention. Sedentary time was defined as television and other screen-based entertainment time (TVSE). Dependent variables were BMI-defined obesity (BMI-OB) and WC-defined obesity (WC-OB). TVSE was positively related to both WC-OB (adjusted OR 1.69 (95 % CI 1.39, 2.05) for > or = 4 h of TVSE per d compared with < 2 h/d) and BMI-OB (OR 1.88; 95 % CI 1.51, 2.35) independently of MVIA. Those classified as most active who reported > or = 4 h/d of TVSE had higher prevalence of BMI-OB (18.9 v. 8.3 %; P < 0.05) and WC-OB (28.0 v. 10.0 %; P < 0.01) than those equally active with < 2 h/d of TVSE. Sports and walking were related inversely to WC-OB (OR for no time compared with > or = 30 min/d: 1.55 (95 % CI 1.24, 1.94); 2.06 (95 % CI 1.64, 2.58)), but only walking was related to BMI-OB (OR 1.94; 95 % CI 1.58, 2.37). Domestic physical activity was not related to BMI-OB or WC-OB. In conclusion, physical activity and sedentary behaviour are independently related to obesity. Public health recommendations should both promote physical activity and discourage engagement in sedentary pursuits.