The contribution of body fat distribution to sleep-disordered breathing in women has not been examined in detail (to our knowledge). Fifty women under 65 years of age were diagnosed as having obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by all-night polysomnography in a 6-month period. Twenty-five women underwent body fat measurements of skin folds and circumferences. The 12 premenopausal and 13 postmenopausal women did not differ in regard to apnea hypopnea index (AHI), SaO2 nadir, body mass index (BMI), or anthropometric measurements. The AHI for these 25 patients was related to the severity of obesity assessed by triceps and subscapular skin folds, the sum of the skin folds, waist circumference, and BMI. The SaO2 nadir correlated with triceps and subscapular skin folds, the sum of the skin folds, and neck skin fold. Clinical features of this same group of 25 women were then compared with those of 45 men with OSA previously described by our laboratory. The women, despite similar age, had less severe OSA than the men (AHI of 34.4±5.4 vs 51.1±4.9, p<0.05). Despite similar BMIs and waist circumference, the men had evidence of a greater degree of upper body obesity with a larger subscapular skin fold thickness, waist-hip ratio, and neck circumference. In addition, for a given degree of upper-body obesity, men had more severe sleep apnea. These findings may explain, at least in part, the greater severity of OSA in the men.