Risk of cardiovascular events was determined over 24 years of surveillance in relation to general adiposity reflected by relative weight and by regional obesity estimated by skinfolds and waist girth per inch of height. Upper quintile values of relative weight, subscapular skinfolds and waist girth were each associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease in both sexes. Risk of total cardiovascular events increased with the degree of regional, central or abdominal obesity. Mortality from cardiovascular disease was also increased. Increased relative weight and central obesity were both associated with increased risk factors including cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and uric acid. Changes in weight were mirrored by changes in risk factors with linear trends over a 15 lb range of weight fluctuations. Subscapular skinfold and the ratio of subscapular-to-triceps skinfold, measures of central obesity, were in either sex also associated with an increased probability of coronary attacks in particular. The subscapular skinfold contributed to CHD risk independent of body mass index (BMI). Multivariate analyses taking all the risk factors into account indicate an independent effect of abdominal obesity on stroke, cardiac failure and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in men. In women, only the subscapular-to-triceps skinfold ratio independently contributes to CHD, cardiovascular and all cause mortality. Regional obesity appears to be an independent contributor to cardiovascular disease at a given level of general adiposity, its effect only partially mediated through promotion of other known risk factors. These data suggest that cardiovascular disease is as closely linked to abdominal as to general adiposity.