Left ventricular (LV) hypertrophy has been found to predispose to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. To assess the clinical correlates and potential determinants of LV mass, the relation of echocardiographically determined LV mass to a variety of clinical parameters was examined in a general population. From 1979 to 1983 Framingham Heart Study participants underwent routine evaluation including medical history, physical examination and M-mode echocardiography. LV mass was determined using an anatomically validated formula that incorporates measurements of LV wall thickness and LV internal diameter. The study population consisted of 2,226 men and 2,746 women (mean age 51 years, range 17 to 90). Age, height, systolic blood pressure and body mass index (a measure of obesity) were statistically significant and independent correlates of LV mass in both sexes (p less than 0.001). In men under age 50, leisure-time physical activity was associated with LV mass (p less than 0.05), but this was not observed in women. Results from multivariate analyses in which body mass index and subscapular skinfold thickness were included suggest that lean body mass is correlated with LV mass. Maintenance of ideal body weight and normal blood pressure, weight reduction in obese persons and blood pressure control in hypertensive patients may contribute to the primary and secondary prevention of LV hypertrophy and its sequelae. Clinical interpretation of echocardiograms should include consideration of the correlates of LV mass to gain better insight into the pathogenesis of LV hypertrophy.