OBJECTIVES: Obesity and other anthropometric measures are clearly related to risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), although debate remains as to which measures are most important and how the impact of obesity varies over the life course. AIM: We aimed to investigate these issues in a large cohort of Swedish women. The Women's Lifestyle and Health Cohort Study includes 49 259 women, aged 30-50 years at baseline (1991-1992) when an extensive questionnaire was completed. METHODS: Women were given standard instructions for self-measurement of anthropometric characteristics. Women were followed through linkages to national registries until December 2003, during which time 256 cases of incident fatal CHD or nonfatal myocardial infarction occurred. RESULTS: Waist circumference was associated with increased CHD risk after multivariate adjustment for confounders (HR = 1.9; 95% CI:1.1-3.3; highest versus lowest quartile), whereas height, weight and hip circumference were not. Measures of obesity were strongly related to CHD, and after mutual adjustment, waist-hip ratio (HR = 1.9, 95% CI: 1.2-3.2) was more closely related to CHD risk than BMI (HR = 1.5, 95% CI: 1.0-2.4). Risk of CHD was increased in women who remained heavy, those who were heavy at age 18, and those with low birth weight. CONCLUSIONS: In conclusion, there is strong evidence for supporting control of obesity, in particular avoidance of abdominal obesity, as a strategy to prevent CHD.