Increased body weight has been associated with an increased risk of morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in several populations. We studied the distribution of body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) in men (n = 1566; mean age, 49 +/- 10 years) and women (n = 1627; mean age, 49 +/- 10 years) participating in the third examination cycle of the Framingham Offspring Study and the association of BMI with known CHD risk factors. In men, BMI increased with age until age 50 years, when it reached a plateau. In women, there was a trend toward an increase in BMI with age up to the seventh decade of life. Seventy-two percent of men and 42% of women had a BMI > or = 25.00, the cutoff point for the definition of overweight. In age-adjusted analyses, BMI was significantly and linearly associated with systolic blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, plasma total cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels and was inversely and linearly associated with HDL cholesterol levels (P < .001) in nonsmoking men and women. The association between BMI and apolipoprotein B and A-I was similar to that of LDL and HDL cholesterol, respectively. LDL size was also linearly associated with BMI: subjects with higher BMI had smaller LDL particles. Lipoprotein(a) levels were not associated with BMI in this population. Of all these risk factors for CHD, reduced HDL cholesterol levels and hypertension were those more strongly associated with higher BMI in both men and women. Elevated triglyceride levels and small LDL particles, and diabetes in women, were also strongly associated with higher BMI values in this population. Our results indicate that a high prevalence of adult Americans are overweight and support the concept that increased BMI is associated with an adverse effect on all major CHD risk factors. These results emphasize the importance of excess body fat as a public health issue.