Uncoupling protein 3 (UCP3) is considered to be associated with obesity, given its function in the regulation of energy and lipid metabolism. An increased body mass index (BMI) and a decreased level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the UCP3 promoter -55 C/T single nucleotide polymorphism (UCP3 -55 C/T SNP) was associated with obesity according to the criteria for Japanese (BMI > or = 25 kg/m2), BMI, and serum HDL-C levels in the general Japanese population. The subjects, numbering 282 and aged 65 +/- 13 years (mean +/- SD), were recruited through an annual health checkup of residents of Mima city, Tokushima, in Japan. Body mass index, blood pressure, biochemical indexes including lipid, and lipoprotein profiles were measured. The UCP3 -55 C/T SNP was determined with a fluorescence-based allele-specific DNA primer assay system. The frequency of the -55 T allele was 30.0%. Subjects with the T/T genotype had significantly higher HDL-C levels than those with the C/C genotype or the C/T genotype. Furthermore, subjects with the T/T genotype had a significantly lower BMI than those with the C/C genotype. A multivariate analysis revealed that the -55 T allele was a significant independent variable contributing to the variance in HDL-C levels and BMI. The T/T genotype was associated with a lower prevalence of obesity than the C/C and C/T genotypes, with an odds ratio of 0.358 (95% confidence interval, 0.132-0.972; P = .037). In conclusion, the UCP3 -55 C/T SNP was associated with elevated HDL-C levels and a reduced BMI, independent of modifiable factors such as lifestyle. Furthermore, this polymorphism, when expressed in its homozygous form, reduced the prevalence of obesity in Japanese.