Childhood BMI has been reported to be positively associated with adult lung function. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of childhood BMI on young adult lung function independently of the effects of lean body mass (LBM). Clinical and questionnaire data were collected from 654 young Australian adults (aged 27-36 years), first studied when age 9, 12, or 15 years. Adult lung function was measured by forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV(1)), FEV(1)/FVC ratio, and the forced expiratory flow in the middle 50% of FVC (FEF(25-75)). BMI and LBM were derived from anthropometric measures at baseline (1985) and at follow-up (2004-2006). Multivariable models were used to investigate the effect of age and sex standardized BMI in childhood on adult lung function, before and after adjustment for LBM. Adult adiposity had a strong deleterious effect on lung function, irrespective of childhood BMI, and adjustment for childhood LBM eliminated any apparent beneficial effect of childhood BMI on adult FEV(1) or FVC. This suggests that the beneficial effect of increased BMI in childhood on adult FEV(1) and FVC observed in previous longitudinal studies is likely to be attributable to greater childhood LBM not adiposity. Obese children who become obese adults can expect to have poorer lung function than those who maintain healthy weight but large deficits in lung function are also likely for healthy weight children who become obese adults. This highlights the importance of lifetime healthy weight maintenance.