Objective: To examine the association between obese-years and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Study design: Prospective cohort study. Setting: Boston, USA. Participants: 5036 participants of the Framingham Heart Study were examined. Methods: Obese-years was calculated by multiplying for each participant the number of body mass index (BMI) units above 29 kg/m2 by the number of years lived at that BMI during approximately 50 years of follow-up. The association between obese-years and CVD was analysed using time-dependent Cox regression adjusted for potential confounders and compared with other models using the Akaike information criterion (AIC). The lowest AIC indicated better fit. Primary outcome: CVD. Results: The median cumulative obese-years was 24 (range 2-556 obese-years). During 138 918 person-years of follow-up, 2753 (55 ) participants were diagnosed with CVD. The incidence rates and adjusted HR (AHR) for CVD increased with an increase in the number of obese-years. AHR for the categories 1-24.9, 25-49.9, 50-74.9 and =75 obese-years were, respectively, 1.31 (95 CI 1.15 to 1.48), 1.37 (95 CI 1.14 to 1.65), 1.62 (95 CI 1.32 to 1.99) and 1.80 (95 CI 1.54 to 2.10) compared with those who were never obese (ie, had zero obese-years). The effect of obese-years was stronger in males than females. For every 10 unit increase in obese-years, the AHR of CVD increased by 6 (95 CI 4 to 8 ) for males and 3 (95 CI 2 to 4 ) for females. The AIC was lowest for the model containing obese-years compared with models containing either the level of BMI or the duration of obesity alone. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that obese-years metric conceptually captures the cumulative damage of obesity on body systems, and is found to provide slightly more precise estimation of the risk of CVD than the level or duration of obesity alone.