BACKGROUND: Patients with severe mental illness are at increased risk of developing metabolic disorders. The risk of metabolic syndrome in the Hong Kong general population is lower than that observed in western countries; however the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in patients with severe mental illness in Hong Kong is unknown. METHOD: This cross-sectional study aimed to estimate the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in patients with severe mental illness in Hong Kong and to identify the relationships between metabolic syndrome and socio-demographic, clinical and lifestyle factors. RESULTS: A total of 139 patients with a diagnosis of severe mental illness participated in the study. The unadjusted prevalence of metabolic syndrome was 35%. The relative risk of metabolic syndrome in comparison with the general Hong Kong population was 2.008 (95% CI 1.59-2.53, p < 0.001). In a logistic regression model sleep disruption and being prescribed first generation antipsychotics were significantly associated with the syndrome, whilst eating less than 3 portions of fruit/vegetables per day and being married were weakly associated. CONCLUSION: The results demonstrate that metabolic syndrome is highly prevalent and that physical health inequalities in patients with severe mental illness in Hong Kong are similar to those observed in western countries. The results provide sufficient evidence to support the need for intervention studies in this setting and reinforce the requirement to conduct regular physical health checks for all patients with severe mental illness.