Increased abdominal mass in obesity should enhance normal gravitational effects on supine respiratory mechanics. We have examined respiratory impedance (forced oscillation over 4-26 Hz applied at the mouth during tidal breathing), maximum inspiratory and expiratory mouth pressures (MIP and MEP), and maximum effort flow-volume curves seated and supine in seven obese subjects (O) (mean age 51 yr, body mass index 43.6 kg/m2) and seven control subjects (C) (mean age 50 yr, body mass index 21.8 kg/m2). Seated mean total lung capacity was smaller in O than in C (82 vs. 100% of predicted); ratio of functional residual capacity (FRC) to total lung capacity averaged 43% in O and 61% in C (P < 0.01). Total respiratory resistance (Rrs) at 6 Hz seated was higher in O (4.6 cmH2O.l-1.s) than in C (2.2 cmH2O.l-1.s; P < 0.001); total respiratory reactance (Xrs) at 6 Hz was lower in O than in C. In C, on changing to the supine posture, mean Rrs at 6 Hz rose to 2.9 cmH2O.l-1.s, FRC fell by 0.68 liter, and Xrs at 6 Hz showed a small fall. In O, despite no further fall in FRC, supine Rrs at 6 Hz increased to 7.3 cmH2O.l-1.s, and marked frequency dependency of Rrs and falls in Xrs developed. Seated, MIP and MEP in C and O were similar; supine there were small falls in MEP and maximum expiratory flow in O. The site and mechanism of the increase in supine Rrs and reduction in supine Xrs and the mechanism maintaining supine FRC in obesity all need further investigation.