OBJECTIVE: Prevalence rates of obesity have been increasing in several countries over the past two decades. Mainly secular changes in energy intake and expenditure have been invoked to underly the increasing rates; genetic factors have not been considered because of the very recency of this phenomenon. We hypothesize that genetic factors might very well be involved via an increased rate of assortative mating between obese individuals. We speculate that the recent upsurge in social stigmatization of obese individuals underlies the hypothesized increase in assortative mating. DESIGN: To accumulate evidence for our hypothesis we analysed deduced rates of assortative mating among parents of extremely obese children and adolescents, who belonged to two different large study groups (n = 201 and n = 270). For this purpose we calculated parental body mass indices (BMIs) based on (a) measured current heights and weights, (b) self-reported current heights and weights, and finally (c) measured current heights and recalled weights at ages 20 and 30, respectively. BMI centiles were determined which in turn were attributed to the respective BMI decile. Deduced rates of assortative mating were evaluated in bivariate histograms of the paternal and maternal BMI deciles. RESULTS: High rates of assortative mating were observed as deduced from the bivariate histograms, which revealed a fairly consistent pattern. Thus, in the first study group almost 35% of the parental pairs had a BMI in the tenth decile; over 50% of the mothers and fathers had a BMI in this top decile. Recalled parental BMIs at ages 20 and 30 also clustered in the upper decile. These results were basically replicated in the second study group. In addition, parental loading on the tenth decile was shown to be higher for the subgroup of children and adolescents who had a BMI equal to or exceeding the highest BMI of the population-based age and gender matched control group. CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that assortative mating is common among parents of extremely obese children and adolescents, ascertained between 1995 and 1997. In addition, the parental loading on the tenth decile is most prominent for the most obese children. Whereas we are unable to document an increased rate of assortative mating, we interpret our results as being consistent with the hypothesis that an increased rate of assortative mating has contributed to the recent rise in obesity rates in several countries. Thus, assortative mating warrants further studies to assess its impact on obesity prevalence rates through both genetic and non-genetic mechanisms. Our results suggest that assortative mating might especially increase the rates for extreme obesity.