Abstract Aim To study differences in body mass index (BMI), waist–hip ratio (WHR), waist circumference (WC), sagittal abdominal diameter (SAD), waist–hip–height ratio (WHHR) and percent body fat in immigrants and Swedish-born men and women in two large population-based samples. Methods A cross-sectional analysis of 60-year-old individuals, n=4 232. To replicate the results, we also assessed another large independent cohort cross-sectionally, the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study (MDC, n=26 777). The data from both cohorts were collected in the 1990s in Sweden. Results Significant differences between Finnish-born, Middle Eastern and women from the rest of the world were seen for all anthropometric measures, using Swedish-born women as referent. However, WHHR was the only anthropometric measure that identified all these three groups of immigrant women as different from Swedish-born women with high statistical certainty (p<0.001). Apart from WHHR that identified differences in anthropometry in all immigrant groups of men using Swedish-born men as referent, few significant differences were seen in anthropometry among groups of immigrant men. These finding were observed in both cohorts, and remained after adjustments for smoking, physical activity and educational level. Conclusion The present study confirms previous findings of more obesity among immigrants and is the first to report that WHHR measurements may detect anthropometric differences between different ethnic groups better than other anthropometrical measures.