Several investigations have demonstrated that higher body weight, as assessed by the body mass index, is associated with improved prognosis in patients with heart failure (HF). The purpose of the present investigation was to assess the influence of HF etiology on the prognostic ability of the body mass index in a cohort undergoing cardiopulmonary exercise testing. A total of 1,160 subjects were included in the analysis. All subjects underwent cardiopulmonary exercise testing, at which the minute ventilation/carbon dioxide production slope and peak oxygen consumption were determined. In the overall group, 193 cardiac deaths occurred during a mean follow-up of 30.7 +/- 25.6 months (annual event rate 6.0%). The subjects classified as obese consistently had improved survival compared to those classified as normal weight (overall survival rate 88.0% vs <or=81.1%, p <0.001). Differences in survival according to HF etiology were observed for those classified as overweight. In the ischemic subgroup, the survival characteristics for the overweight subjects (75.5%) were similar those for subjects classified as normal weight (81.1%). The converse was true for the nonischemic subgroup, for whom the survival trends for the obese (86.4%) and overweight subjects (88.4%) were similar. The minute ventilation/carbon dioxide production slope was the strongest prognostic marker (chi-square >or=43.4, p <0.001) for both etiologies, and the body mass index added prognostic value (residual chi-square >or=4.7, p <0.05). In conclusion, these results further support the notion that obesity confers improved prognosis in patients with HF, irrespective of the HF etiology. Moreover, the body mass index appears to add predictive value during the cardiopulmonary exercise testing assessment. However, survival appears to differ according to HF etiology in subjects classified as overweight.