OBJECTIVE: Secular increases in obesity have been widely reported in middle-aged adults, but less is known about such trends among the elderly. The primary purpose of this paper is to document the most recent wave of the obesity epidemic in population-based samples of 70-y-old men and women from Göteborg. Additionally, we will investigate the influences of physical activity, smoking and education on these secular trends. POPULATIONS AND METHODS: Five population-based samples of 3702 70-y-olds (1669 men and 2033 women) in Göteborg, Sweden, born between 1901 and 1930, were examined in the Gerontological and Geriatric Population Studies (H70) between 1971 and 2000. Cohort differences in anthropometric measures were the main outcomes studied. Physical activity, smoking habits and education were assessed by comparable methods in all cohorts. Subsamples of the women in the latest two cohorts (birth years 1922 and 1930) were also part of the Prospective Population Study of Women in Göteborg. In these women, it was possible to examine body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip circumference ratio (WHR) longitudinally since 1968. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Significant upward trends were found for height, weight, BMI, waist circumference (WC), WHR, prevalence of overweight (BMI> or =25 kg/m(2)) and obesity (BMI> or =30 kg/m(2)) across cohorts in both sexes. In 2000, 20% of the 70-y-old men born in 1930 were obese, and the largest increment (almost doubling) had occurred between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. In 70-y-old women the prevalence of obesity was 24% in 2000, a 50% increase compared to the cohort born 8 y earlier. BMI increased over time in all physical activity, smoking and education groups, with the exception of never-smoking men. Although 70-y-old women in 2000 were heavier than cohorts examined 8 y previously, data from the women studied longitudinally revealed that these differences were already present in earlier adulthood. In conclusion, the elderly population is very much part of the obesity epidemic, although secular trends in BMI were detected slightly earlier in men than in women. The health implications of these secular trends should be focused on in future gerontological research.